Massachusetts and Alaska May Join Maine in Letting Voters Rank Their Choices

Two November ballot initiatives would introduce ranked-choice voting in two more states.


Voters in Massachusetts and Alaska will decide in November whether they want to implement ranked-choice voting for some of their state races.

If voters approve, they'll join Maine, which in November will be the first state to use ranked-choice voting for the presidential race.

In ranked-choice voting (sometimes called "instant runoff voting"), citizens don't just select one of the candidates for an office (though they can if they want to). They are permitted to rank each of the candidates on the basis of preference.

To win a ranked-choice election, one must receive more than 50 percent of the vote, not just a plurality. If no candidate has a majority, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated from contention. Then the votes are tallied again. If you ranked the eliminated candidate as your first choice, your second choice is instead tallied as your vote. And so the process goes until a candidate gets more than 50 percent.

In Maine, voters approved a proposition to introduce ranked-choice voting there for some state and federal elections in 2016. The state's Republican Party has been fighting it ever since, unsuccessfully. In 2018, ranked-choice voting contributed to the ouster of a GOP incumbent.

In Massachusetts, Question 2 will ask voters if they want ranked-choice voting for state officials and lawmakers, members of Congress, and some county offices. It would not implement ranked-choice voting in presidential races.

In Alaska, Ballot Measure 2 combines ranked-choice voting with open primaries. If it becomes law, candidates for state or congressional offices will first run in a single open primary where candidates for each office all face each other, regardless of party. After the vote, the top four (regardless of party) will face each other again in the general election. There voters will have the option to rank the four candidates for each seat, and then the rules of ranked-choice voting will be followed.

Why bother with such a complicated system? Proponents argue that under ranked-choice voting, you aren't "throwing your vote away" by supporting a third-party candidate and you don't have to feel beholden to the two-party model. In Maine, for example, voters will be able to vote for Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen or Green candidate Howie Hawkins and still also support either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. Research from FairVote, an activist organization supporting and promoting ranked-choice voting, found that voter turnout trends upwards in cities that have implemented ranked-choice voting.

All of this may explain why the state Libertarian Party affiliates in both Massachusetts and Alaska are supporting these ballot measures.

In Maine, voters have consistently shown support for implementation. But in Massachusetts, polling is currently divided almost evenly between support and opposition, with more than a quarter of voters undecided. In Alaska, it's polling ahead, 59 to 17 percent. Even so, the most recent poll had about a quarter of the voters undecided.

Ranked choice is not perfect, and it comes with its own set of frustrations. If you support only one of the candidates and that candidate does poorly, then your vote can get tossed out and mean nothing, just like in a winner-takes-all elections. It doesn't even necessarily make it easier for a third-party candidate to win. But it does mean that major party candidates cannot simply ignore the interests of more independent voters and run simply by appealing to their bases. Those independent voters' second choice might be what determines the election.


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  1. I guess my second choice will be a write-in for Bernie Sanders

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    2. First choice for the majority of states will still be Donald J Trump.

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  2. Ranked choice voting is an improvement, but approval voting would be even better.

    1. When ranked choice ignores most of the inputs (starting on 1st choices, discarding compromise candidates early), then voters are still being railroaded. Even worse, because 1st-place votes are so important and because last-place votes don’t even matter, candidates will be even more motivated to polarize all issues (e.g. proposing to rob Peter to buy Paul’s vote).

      So instant runoff is crap except for the very tiny possibility that it could be a stepping stone to Instant Round-Robin voting (IRRV, aka Condorcet).

    2. I agree. Approval voter is simpler and better than ranked choice. Looked up “center squeeze effect.”
      I’d like to see more Reason coverage of different voting methods – it’s a foundational bottleneck to better candidates and breaking up political tribalism.

      1. Approval and disapproval voting. Like up and down votes on some comment threads. This would tend to weed out the extreme polarizing candidates. Each voter would get votes on each race equal to 2/3 of the candidates. Voters choice on what ratio of up or down votes to use.

  3. It doesn’t even necessarily make it easier for a third-party candidate to win.

    No, it probably won’t. As has been discussed, if you have an electorate that “generally leans” in one direction, with ranked choice voting, it will likely solidify that leaning towards permanent majority.

    1. But it should make it easier for people to vote for third parties as a protest without feeling they are throwing away their vote in a close race.

      1. I’m… neutral on that. I’m not categorically against ranked-choice voting, but people should be aware of what they’re signing up for. There is an argument that suggest you get a more ‘pure’ democracy. If everyone really really sorta really wanted Hillary Clinton*, we can vote for the real commie but safely know that Hillary Clinton will still get our vote in case the nation isn’t ready for a real commie this election.

        *yes, I’m aware we’re talking about state-level systems here.

        Also, I’m not trying to pick on Democrats, it’s just the example I gave. The same mathematical results would occur in a Republican-leaning district. If you wanted to take a shot at the insurgent tea-party candidate, you could do so without fear of accidentally booting Ted Cruz from office. It works both ways.

      2. Yes. Also it would boost voter turnout over time. For example, if without ranked-choice voting Hillary got 39% of the vote and Jill Stein got 1% of the vote, but with ranked-choice voting, Hillary got 25% of the first-choice vote and Jill Stein got 15% of the first-choice vote (with 2nd choice being Hillary), it would absolutely result in a lot more turnout for the Green Party in the future, as people realized that the “true” support for the Green Party was way higher than the 1% as it was in a FPTP type of system.

      3. I agree, but I don’t think it really changes the final outcome. Yes, it may bring out more Green Party over time but if the voters second choice is always democrat what is the incentive to change policies. I think it appeals to the single issue voter as it allows him or her to express their opinion but the voters sympathy’s will with one of the two major parties.

        I think you will only have a chance to change policy if you have proportional representation at the House level that way the less mainstream parties would able to negotiate concessions.

  4. The choices are pretty rank.

  5. What’s so magical about 50%?

    I mean, if 51% can force their will on the other 49, why can’t 39% force their will on 61?

    1. “What’s so magical about 50%?”

      lol math not your strong suit

      1. That’s not an answer.

    2. Actually it’s 50%+1 vote that is the magical definition of a majority. I think the real question is, “What is so magical about a MAJORITY?”

      At different times in history majorities were in favor of burning heretics and “witches”.

      At different times in history majorities were in favor of slavery.

      At different times in history majorities were in favor of Jim Crow segregation laws.

      In most countries in the world, majorities are in favor of the death penalty for some crimes, while their legislators have abolished it.

      A majority (50%+1 vote) of California voters and a super-majority (60%+1 vote) voted that same-sex marriage should be illegal.

      So, my next question is, “When do we decide that Majorities are no magical at all?”

    3. Indeed, that’s a good point. Somehow they argue that a 49-51 means that having the 49% command over the 51% is SO MUCH WORSE than the other way around, but in effect, the rough majority in both cases are left unhappy. One-two-three million difference to either side is insignificant in a country of 330+ millions, even of only half that number is eligible (and willing) to vote.

      Furthermore, it can also be argued that when Team D wants European-style democracy i.e. national popular vote implemented, they are IN EFFECT arguing that NYC and LA should decide the President every single time, since we all know that all their ‘additional’ vote is derived from the largest American population centers. So in other words, they want 2 cities to dictate and rule over thousands of other cities and communities. Or in other words, they are offended that the President is picked by the vast majority of our American communities. (And we can also use counties, landmass, and virtually every other metrics from 2016 to point out that every last one of them picked Trump. Hell, we can even add that no matter the vote counting and electoral method, Hillary would not have won under any other circumstance, not even the one favoring D the most. She would have lost by just a couple electoral votes AT BEST.)

      1. 50% of….those who turn out? Or
        50% of…those who registered? Or
        50% of all who are eligible to vote?

        + 1, of course.

  6. Good. The more voting innovations, the better.

    1. One day you chaps will be able to “innovate” voting completely away. Then you’ll have some fun.

  7. The main problem with ranked-choice voting is, like proportional representation systems like the single transferable vote, is that they are seen as too complex by most voters.

    When you depart from a simple sit down of volunteer referees from each party counting votes and determining that the winner is the one who gets 50%+one vote you lose almost everyone.

    Once you introduce a system that requires methods of counting that need some kind of mathematical skill that is alien to the vast majority of voters you are quite likely to lose the voters’ trust.

    1. Mathematical Skill? – The only skill the voter needs is to be able to count up to (say) ten. Anyone who can’t do that probably won’t be voting anyway.

      1. Mathematical skill? That’s always been needed. As the precinct worker would traditionally answer the query, “How many votes did Johnson get in your ward?”
        PW: “How many does he need?”

      2. The ranked-choice and proportional representation systems really on complex counting and in the case of the single transferable vote fairly complicated math to allocate votes accurately.

        Most people really only understand simple either/or choices.

    2. Yup. Democrats are for this system because they cannot even gain a majority of states or a majority in those majority states.

      1. Ah but they will soon have majority population and keep growing with the darkening of America. I’m afraid republicans days are numbered with their racist policies and attempts to suppress votes. People of color will remember and vote accordingly.

        1. You poor guy. You hadn’t heard have you?

          More and more Americans of every color are NOT voting Democrat.

    3. It’s not complicated. Other countries do it and do just fine. If you don’t understand it then just put down the one candidate that you want to win, you don’t have to fill in all the blanks. If a voter is such a fucking idiot they can’t understand putting candidates in order then the human race SHOULD be doomed so that a better species can take over.

    4. “Too complex for most voters”? That sounds like a feature, not a bug. With luck, the added complexity of ranked-choice voting will dissuade a great many people from voting—people who, in a straightforward vote-for-one contest, will vote for the one with the nice hair, or the one who’s going to Make America Great, or the one who’s going to make Health Care A Right Not A Privilege.

      And distrusting the system is a good thing, as well. The less we trust our political system, the less power we’ll be willing to grant it.

      1. Then why are you so eager to hand out a false majority instead of a minority of support to the government?

  8. California needs to get this on the ballot. It actually won a veto proof majority in both the Senate and Assembly last year, IIRC. Yet Gavin vetoed it because Californicans are too stupid to understand how it works and the legislature decided he was right.

    Who would have thought the governor of Cali would openly admit that bumpkins in Maine are far more intelligent than “the biggest economy evah!” Californicans. I mean, at heart we all know it to be true but it’s still shocking for #GovOfCali to admit it.

  9. Just what we need, a voting system that is even more complicated.

    1. The democrats are losing nationally, so the system must be changed to keep the party of slavery in the game.

      Democrats are so obvious.

      1. Democrats are losing nationally? lmfao, see you Nov 4 when they have the Senate, House and Presidency. You can’t be that naive?

        1. You poor guy. Republicans take more senate seats in 2018 and the Census 2020 will take away House seats from Blue states and give them to Red states.

  10. A “ranked” majority is a bullshit delusion.

    Your sloppy second choice doesn’t represent a real vote.

    There is only one position available. Voting for a second or third is ridiculous..

    1. It makes the concept of a majority meaningless.

      1. No it doesn’t

        1. When a majority is guaranteed by manipulating “votes for losers” it has become meaningless.

    2. CA has already adopted a system which gives you the choice of one party in the General Election.

  11. If most Trump voters selected Jorgensen as second choice and most Biden voter selected the Green party candidate, the only question in the first round is who will get eliminated first – Jorgensen or the Green Party guy.

    The democrats are probably hoping that the Green party candidate or some fringe commie candidate is eliminated first, because their voters likely picked the dem frontrunner as their second choice. In some state elections that might be enough to put the dem frontrunner over the top.

    It’s a crappy system that amplifies the downside of a democratic process – giving uninformed voters more chances at a choice. If you’re a true third party supporter it makes zero sense for you to list a second choice, because your votes are actually going directly to one of the frontrunners. The only way this helps third party candidate is if enough mainstream voters defect to put someone like Jorgensen in second place, where she has some chance of sucking up votes from a GOP candidate who was eliminated.

    It’s not gonna happen. In a country where the two party system and tribalism is entrenched, ranked choice voting will end up helping one side. It will preserve two party domination and even lead to prolonged one party rule.

    1. I tend to think you are correct. I also don’t think it modifies the policies of the major party. For example, if the dems can always count on being the second choice of the greens, why pay attention to them?

    2. Democrats have challenged and eliminated the Green Party presidential candidate in many states, while spoiler candidate Jo Jorgensen is on the ballot in all 50 states.

    3. The one way a “ranked choice” type system might work would be if everyone’s second choice (etc.) were counted AND if you could list the same candidate all the way down the ballot. So hardcore Trump supporter always supports Trump, but I might vote Jorgensen on 1, and then Trump thereafter.

      When you only use the votes of the knocked out candidates, you double (etc.) the voting power of their supporters, but leave the first time plurality winners out of double-dipping.

  12. So besides the ouster of one National Socialist Republican, where else has this gauntlet voting actually worked on the record and in the past tense? What non-imaginary improvement can we point to as tangible evidence?

  13. “To win a ranked-choice election, one must receive more than 50 percent of the vote, not just a plurality.”

    How about true democracy? To assume office, and any legitimate mandate and power over people, a candidate needs to achieve more than 50% of the eligible voters. Maybe we can get past this era of fringe left and right politics fighting each other for dominance, where barely 25% of people take control over everyone.

    1. The ONLY way to guarantee that one person receives 50% or more of the cast votes is to limit the election to two contenders.

      Ranked voting simply includes votes for losers to artificially manipulate a false majority.

  14. Oops I voted for the wrong candidate the first time.

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  16. Need to reduce barriers to other parties to appear on the ballot but the 2 party duopoly will keep fighting. Ranked voting is nonsense.

  17. “Those independent voters’ second choice might be what determines the election”

    This is exactly the problem, at least in the algorithm that Massachusetts is proposing. Rather than empowering the middle, it empowers the fringe. I’d be happy with that if all of the fringe were libertarians, but their not; greens & hard-core socialists seem to be the biggest section of the “also rans”.

    And yes, it is complicated. Or at least the text of the law is, which is what we’re voting on, not some rainbow and unicorn fantasy. It’s so complex I had to read it about six times before I could even figure out what the hell they were talking about; incomplete definitions, poor explanations, it’s a mess and I will be voting it down.

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