Easthampton considering ranked choice voting for municipal elections

  • Easthampton City Councilors Owen Zaret, left, and Thomas Peake on the first day of recreational marijuana sales at INSA in Easthampton, Dec. 22, 2018. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/10/2019 7:00:55 PM

EASTHAMPTON – City Councilor Thomas Peake wants to change how Easthampton’s municipal elections choose a winner. In order to explain the concept of ranked choice voting, Peake uses a thought experiment. 

Imagine you and your friends want to order a pizza. Peake suggests that everyone ranks pizza shops in Easthampton from their favorite to least favorite.

The pizza shop that receives the majority of votes wins. If none of the pizza shops break 50 percent in the initial count, the shop with the least amount of votes gets eliminated. Those who voted for the pizza shop with the least votes then have their votes redistributed towards their second choice.

This process continues until a pizza shop receives a majority of the votes. 

“The second you start talking about politics things get complicated,” Peake said at a charter review subcommittee meeting on Feb. 21. "The reality is we are really good at saying, ‘I like this thing more than that thing.’ It’s something we do on a daily basis.” 

The city’s charter review committee is exploring the possibility of recommending ranked choice voting for municipal elections to the Easthampton City Council. Ranked choice voting, sometimes referred to as an instant run-off election is an alternative to plurality voting where voters only get a single choice and the winner does not require a majority but simply the most votes. 

The charter review committee will vote on their recommendation at Thursday’s meeting. 

In order for Easthampton to adopt the change to the charter, it would require approval from Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, the state Legislature, and a majority of Easthampton voters in the November election. 

On Feb. 28, the charter review committee invited Karen Brinson Bell and Chris Hughes of the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center (RCVRC), a non-profit that helps municipalities manage new election systems, to answer questions for committee members. 

Bell said that ranked choice voting “increases civility in campaigns” and avoids vote splitting, which is an electoral effect where the distribution of votes among multiple similar candidates increases the chance of a dissimilar candidate winning. 

Ranked choice voting “is a proven voting method in the United States and other countries,” Bell said. “We spend a lot of time trying to emphasize that there is very little difference between an election with ranked choice voting and any other election.” 

Cities such as Cambridge, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Santa Fe are among 11 major cities in the United States that use ranked choice voting. 

In 2018, Maine used ranked choice voting for its state and federal primaries, as well as for the U.S. House and Senate general election. 

When Minneapolis used ranked choice voting in 2017, Bell said, there was less than 1 percent voter error – about the same as in 2013 when the city used a plurality voting system. 

“It is designed as a system to make sure that your vote will go as far as possible and elect the people you like the most,” Hughes said.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com

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