Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Panel at Amherst College discusses ranked choice voting systems

Discussion comes days before Amherst residents will vote on whether or not to approve a charter to change local government

By Mack Cooper, Collegian Correspondent

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A panel of professors, activists, students and local officials gathered in the Converse Hall at Amherst College Thursday to discuss ranked choice voting.

The panel comes less than a week before Amherst residents will vote yes or no for a new town charter that Charter Commission member Mandi Jo Hanneke said will “set Amherst on the path to a ranked choice voting system.”

Ranked choice voting is an electoral system in which voters rank the candidates, so that if their first choice does not garner enough support, their vote transfers to their next choice. According to Mount Holyoke professor and electoral systems expert Douglas Amy, RCV eliminates many of the problems people see with the current electoral system, including a lack of representation, lack of third party candidates, hostile campaigning techniques and low voter turnouts.

Amy discussed how RCV results in proportional representation, rather than the “winner take-all” system currently in place.

“If a party wins 40 percent of the vote, they don’t get 50 percent of the seats or 30 percent of the seats. They get 40 percent,” Amy said.

RCV systems have been adopted in cities across the nation including Santa Fe, San Francisco, Portland, Minneapolis and even Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are currently campaigns in both Amherst and Hadley in favor of implementing RCV systems. In Amherst, there is a vote on a new town charter, which, according to Hanneke, will begin the process of implementing an RCV system in Amherst.

According to Hanneke, the Amherst Charter Commission, the group responsible for crafting the new charter, has been “unanimous in support of RCV.” Hanneke said the Charter Commission believes implementing an RCV system would help with a number of issues surrounding the current electoral process.

“We think an RCV system would help to increase voter turnout, to save a little money and to increase proportional representation,” Hanneke said.

Hanneke also said that she believes in eliminating the winner-take all system, political campaigning and discussion will become less rancorous and more civil—noting that even the campaigning surrounding the new charter has been “hostile” and that RCV could “create a more positive environment.”

If the charter is passed on Tuesday, Hanneke said an RCV system could be expected to be implemented to elect local officials by 2021.

There is also currently a pro-RCV campaign led by Hadley resident Linda Castronovo, who was inspired to action after what she saw as a failure of the electoral system during the 2016 election. Castronovo was able to force a town vote on implementing an RCV system by gathering 10 signatures of Hadley residents and submitting a citizens’ petition to the town council.

Castronovo urged Hadley residents to turn out for the vote, saying, “Democracy is only as strong as the number of people who participate.”

Amherst resident Matthew Berube was compelled to attend the panel after being “interested in the idea for a while.”

“The last few elections put electoral dysfunction on display,” Berube said, adding that he feels RCV is “a reform that seems imminently achievable.”

Mack Cooper can be reached at [email protected]

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