Mass. voters reject ranked-choice voting, splitting with party leaders

Question 2 fails by about 9 percentage points

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Cade Belisle / Daily Collegian

By Will Katcher, Assistant News Editor

Despite support from the state Democratic Party and endorsements by prominent liberal politicians, Massachusetts voters rejected a ballot question Tuesday on whether to adopt a ranked-choice voting system.

The proposed method would have asked voters to rank candidates in an election by preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the last place candidate would be eliminated. Votes would then be recounted according to each ballot’s top preference among remaining candidates, this continuing until a candidate achieves a majority.

With 95 percent of the vote reported by mid-day Wednesday, “No” votes led by 9 percentage points. The committee leading the charge for Question 2 conceded the race after midnight Tuesday.

Voters dismissal of the measure, known as Question 2, leaves Maine as the only state with a ranked-choice voting system. Cambridge has had ranked-choice voting system since 1939, the only city or town in the Commonwealth to have the system in use.

The ballot’s first question, requiring car manufacturers to share “telematics” — data about the car — with vehicle owners and mechanics, passed overwhelmingly.

Supporters of Question 2 were centered in Greater Boston and suburbs to the city’s west, the northern half of the Pioneer Valley, including Amherst and Hadley, and the state’s southwest corner.

While top Democrats widely supported Question 2, and Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito — both Republicans — opposed it, voters varied, with many Democrats splitting from their party leaders to vote against the measure.

Even bright blue Massachusetts towns, such as Provincetown, which Biden won by over 85 points, did not come out strongly for ranked-choice voting. “P-Town” favored Question 2 by only an 11-point margin.

Voters across the political spectrum cited confusions about the question, though Adam Lan, a University of Massachusetts senior and Democratic voter, called it “a little complicated but easily explained.”

Lan said his mom had called him Monday night, unsure about the measure. Other voters, like Amherst resident Erik Learned-Miller, voted for it “mostly on the recommendations of people who understand it.”

“Honestly, I was a little confused about it myself,” Learned-Miller said.

“No” voters also expressed beliefs that ranked-choice voting would complicate the election process.

“I thought it’d be too mucky,” said Reneé Fye, of Amherst, after voting against the measure Tuesday.

“The government just keeps trying to change everything and I just don’t agree with any of it,” said Amherst resident and Republican voter Stephen Averill. “Politics is politics, and nothing much is going to change no matter what happens. I’m cynical.”

Proponents of ranked-choice voting hold that it would give more opportunities to third parties, without drawing votes away from major-party candidates with realistic chances of winning.

“Ranked choice is good because it’s like, I actually ideologically align with this candidate, but my second choice would be this guy who has run to win,” Phillip Bishop, a 2020 UMass graduate and Amherst resident, said after voting at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School Tuesday.

“So, you can still vote ideologically for yourself and you can also still give some traction to whichever mainstream party might need a vote,” he said.

Will Katcher can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @will_katcher.