Ranked Choice Voting and Early Voting: Making Our Elections More Democratic

Testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Election Laws.

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Chairman Finegold, Chairman Lawn, and Members of the Joint Committee on Election Laws: 

My name is Jonathan Cohn, and I chair the Issues Committee at Progressive Massachusetts, a statewide grassroots advocacy group committed to fighting for progressive policy here in the Commonwealth. A core part of our platform is an electoral system that expands voting, the electorate, and its trust in candidates and elected officials.

Accordingly, we urge you to give a favorable report to An Act to use of ranked choice voting in elections (H.719/S.414), An Act providing a local option for ranked choice voting in municipal elections (H.635/S.420), and An Act to extend early voting for all elections (H.681/S.390).

Ranked Choice Voting

When voters get to the ballot box, they can face complicated choices. Our first-past-the-post system forces ordinary voters to weigh whether they can vote for their preferred candidate or whether doing so would lead to a “spoiler effect” that gives a candidate they like less a clearer path to victory. This same dynamic can lead candidates and their supporters to try to force similar candidates out of a race due to a fear of “vote splitting.”

Within the current system, the ultimate winner may command less than a majority support, a contradiction of a basic tenet of democracy and a far too common occurrence in Massachusetts elections. We have some of the least competitive elections in the country, and candidates can win with small pluralities and then stay in office for decades. Ranked Choice Voting would eliminate these problems by enabling voters to rank the order of their preferences on the ballot and ensuring that whoever wins does so with majority support.

 

Early Voting

Early voting, which was first offered here in 2016, has made voting more convenient, as our Tuesday elections are a vestige of a rural past. Given that polls are only open from 7 am to 8 pm, work, family, and school commitments can get in the way of voters being able to make it to the polls in this narrow window. Early voting allows voters the flexibility to cast their votes when their schedule best allows.

Early voting is popular: more than 1 million voters voted early in the 2016 presidential election in Massachusetts. However, early voting is currently limited only to the state/federal general elections every two years, limiting the possibilities for democratic participation and even risking increasing confusion among voters. We should extend it to primaries and municipal elections.

Our democracy works best when everyone is able to participate, and when everyone feels that their voice was heard. These bills will help make that happen.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jonathan Cohn

Chair, Issues Committee

Progressive Massachusetts

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