On Monday, supporters of a referendum to institute instant-runoff voting in Massachusetts announced that the secretary of state has verified that they’ve turned in enough valid signatures to make the November ballot. If this measure wins a majority this fall, then Massachusetts will be the second state after Maine to use this method to decide many of its elections.
If passed, instant-runoff voting (also known as ranked choice) would, starting in 2022, apply to both primaries and general elections for governor and other statewide offices; U.S. Senate and House seats; the state legislature; and countywide posts such as district attorney and sheriff. The measure would not impact presidential elections or races for city and town offices.
While Massachusetts is a heavily Democratic state in federal elections, there have been several important contests in recent years where no candidate won a majority of the vote. In the 2010 contest for governor, for instance, Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick fended off Republican Charlie Baker 48-42. Four years later, then-Attorney General Martha Coakley won the Democratic primary to succeed Patrick 42-36, but she went on to lose to Baker 48-47.
We’ll never know how any of these elections would have turned out if instant-runoff voting had been in place, though there’s reason to think that Coakley could have prevailed over Baker. Third-party candidate Evan Falchuk, who took a crucial 3% of the vote in the 2014 general election, campaigned as a progressive, and his voters may have broken for Coakley if given a second choice.
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