OPINION: Mass. voters need ranked choice voting in time for crowded presidential primary

March 3, 2019
Kevin Johnson and Rob Richie

Published in CommonWealth Magazine

MASSACHUSETTS VOTERS care about presidential elections. Many knock on doors in New Hampshire or phone bank to voters in Florida and Ohio. Of course, they may also vote for president, but they do so knowing that what really matters will happen somewhere else.

For 2020, Massachusetts can at last make itself a state that matters. The Electoral College system likely won’t change in time, but Massachusetts right now can make an historic improvement in a critical component of electing a president: the party primaries.

A big problem with the primaries stems from our tradition of limiting voters to only one choice. That works for two candidates, but collapses with a huge, dozen-or-more field as we are likely to see in the 2020 Democratic primary. Democratic Party rules allocate delegates proportionally to all candidates who pass a 15 percent threshold. An early primary crowded with strong candidates might end up with the winner garnering 16 percent of the vote. Is it fair if 84 percent of voters are shut out and a 16-percent-candidate declares victory?

Ranked choice voting solves this problem. It would enable voters to rank their presidential primary choices first, second, third, and so on. The tabulation proceeds in rounds ….