Split decision: Voters give nod to right-to-repair; reject ranked-choice voting

  • Brian DeJordy, co-owner of Ernie’s on King Street in Northampton, works on a van while owner Ben Heckscher waits. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brian DeJordy, co-owner of Ernie’s on King Street in Northampton, works on a van while owner Ben Heckscher waits. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brian DeJordy, co-owner of Ernie’s on King Street in Northampton works on a van Thursday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Northampton Precinct 4 Warden Tammy Howard, right, checks the tape on a voting machine with deputy warden Gerriann Butler shortly after the polls closed at the Senior Center on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

  • A summary of Ballot Question 2, known as a "Ranked Choice Voting" law, in the Nov. 3, 2020, Massachusetts election is displayed in a handbook provided to voters by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Wednesday, Sept. 23, in Marlborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes) Bill Sikes

  • Left, Shirley Raymond, checks Ella Colton in at Westhampton Town Hall on Election Day morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2020, file photo, a summary of Ballot Question 1 on the Nov. 3 Massachusetts election ballot about access to motor vehicle data is displayed in Marlborough, Mass., in a handbook provided to voters by the Secretary of the Commonwealth. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes, File) Bill Sikes

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2020 8:45:17 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As residents across the state watched the tallies come in for the hotly contested presidential race on Election Day, two other issues also garnered significant attention Tuesday — whether voters would approve an update to the commonwealth’s right-to-repair law and adopt ranked-choice voting.

The results of those ballot questions produced split results. While Question 1, the right-to-repair law, passed overwhelmingly, voters rejected Question 2, the ranked-choice voting question that would have adopted the new voting system for state and federal, but not presidential elections.

Though Hampshire County voters supported the idea by a margin of 55% to 45%, it lost statewide by a similar difference, according to unofficial results. Locally, Easthampton, Northampton and Amherst all voted to OK Question 2, which helped fuel the difference here. Other communities, including Southampton, Granby and Ware, followed the statewide trend in rejecting the measure.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the last place candidate is eliminated, and voters who ranked that candidate first get their next choice votes applied. This continues until one candidate gets a majority.

Easthampton City Councilor Thomas Peake has been a longtime advocate and campaigner for ranked-choice voting.

“I’m bummed obviously,” said Peake, on his reaction to the result.

Peake said that the campaign knew that if people walked into the polls not knowing what ranked-choice voting was, a significant portion would vote no.

“This race was always going to be about voter persuasion,” he said.

However, Peake noted that the campaign faced a significant, and unforeseen, obstacle.

“When we started this four years ago, no one could have anticipated COVID,” he said.

Peake said that voter persuasion is easier to do in person, and that in the successful campaign for ranked-choice voting for municipal elections in Easthampton, supporters hosted a mock election event that showed how ranked-choice works by asking people to rank their favorite things about fall. This example helped people understand that they didn’t have to pick one thing they liked about fall, but could instead pick many things. The same would hold true in ranked-choice voting — voters could vote for several candidates in their order of preference.

“It’s a different interaction,” said Peake, speaking of persuasion over the phone. “It’s harder to seal the deal.”

Peake said he was surprised that the campaign didn’t do better in Holyoke, Springfield, New Bedford and Fall River, and wondered if Portuguese and Spanish language outreach could be an area that could be improved in the future. In Holyoke, the question lost 54% to 46%.

Additionally, Peake said that this year’s election meant that it was harder to get staff and volunteers for the campaign.

Going forward, Peake said that he’ll work on getting communities to locally adopt ranked-choice voting, and that he’d like to see it on the ballot again as soon as it’s legally able to and supporters think it can win.

“When people learn about it, they like it and they support it,” Peake said. “We weren’t able to reach enough people.”

By state law, a ballot question that is substanially the same has to wait six years to be on the ballot.

Samuel Stoddard, a visiting assistant professor of political science at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, was happy to see Question 2 defeated.

Stoddard said that he believes that ranked-choice voting would nullify the power of left-wing third-party voters in Massachusetts, as they would likely mark Democrats down as their second choice, effectively nullifying the force of those votes.

And while Stoddard said that he would “rather see a system with more viable third parties,” he said that the way to build parties that are viable alternatives is without ranked-choice voting.

He also said that he thinks the system would discourage voters who don’t follow politics closely, and working class voters and would give more power to high information voters.

“It’s giving more privilege to voices that already have privilege in the system,” he said.

He also said that it sends subtle signals to some people that voting is not an enterprise that they’re welcome in.

Peake said that he saw kids who were not old enough to read successfully fill out ranked-choice ballots in Easthampton at the mock election event. He also said that Maine, which has adopted ranked-choice voting, hasn’t experienced voter disenfranchisement. Its residents tend to make less money than those in Massachusetts.

Additionally, Peake said that if someone believes that working class voters and those who don’t follow politics are less able to rank candidates, “I think that that says a lot more about you than it does about a voting system.”

Like Stoddard, Peake considers himself to be on the left, and on the issue of ranked-choice voting destroying the ability to protest vote, Peake said he would like to see the left move beyond protest votes, and for a wider spectrum of candidates to run for office. He also noted that you don’t have to rank additional candidates.

“If you really don’t have any interest, you don’t have to rank any candidates,” he said. “You’re not required to”

Natalia Muñoz, the news director at Holyoke Media, said that the ranked-choice voting campaign was confusing.

“The campaign didn’t do a good job,” she said. “It just did not even explain … you could just vote for the candidate you wanted.”

She also said that it was “very inside baseball.”

“I understood the intent of it,” she said. “But I could never explain it.”

Still, Muñoz ended up voting for the question, as she said ranked-choice voting would make it so voters wouldn’t have to choose between the lesser of two evils.

She also said she would have liked to have seen elected officials, especially from communities of color, explain that ranked-choice voting could lead to more diversity in elected positions.

Right-to-repair

Question 1 carried the day in every single community in Hampshire County by comfortable margins, according to unofficial results. It triumphed statewide by a margin of 75% to 25%.

The law, which updates the state’s “right-to-repair” law, allows for telematics data from cars, which is transmitted wirelessly, to be shared with independent repair shops.

Michael Woodard, who co-owns Ernie’s Garage in Northampton with Brian DeJordy, is happy the question passed.

“It’s going to be beneficial for customers,” said Woodard, of Question 1’s passage. “They will have the choice to go where they want.”

He said that the passage of Question 1 is a “plan that we have to have in place for the future,” and that without the ability to get telematics data, Ernie’s won’t be able to do emissions repairs on cars that are starting to come out, meaning customers would have to use a dealer.

The question requires manufacturers to share telematics data starting with model 2022 cars.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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