By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Are you fed up with an electoral process where the major parties squeeze out other voices, big money promotes bitter, divisive campaigning, and it seems impossible to get a majority for anything?

Who isn’t?

But a new TV ad promoting ranked choice voting as a solution doesn’t give you the full story.

If you’ve ever been in Cambridge during election season, you’ve seen the signs of their ranked-choice voting system, in effect there for 80 years. It allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference.

If one gets more than 50 percent of first-choice votes, they win.

If not, candidates with the fewest first-choice votes are eliminated and the second picks on those ballots become first-place choices, the process continuing until someone has a majority.

Maybe you’ve seen the ad promoting a “yes” vote on Ballot Question Two this fall that would implement ranked choice voting statewide. “We are at our best when we are united,” says the narrator over images of smiling folks. Then we see distorted video of partisan cable news shout-fests: “But these days, politics are tearing us further and further apart.”

But some of the claims made about the benefits of the change are debatable, to say the least.

For instance, the ad claims “ranked-choice voting helps build consensus by giving voters the choice to rank candidates by order of preference and elect leaders who are supported by the broadest majority of voters.”

But a 2014 study of four local ranked-choice elections in California and Washington state found large numbers of voters don’t rank all their choices. Those ballots often get thrown out.

And in Australia, where the lower house of Parliament has been elected this way for a century, parties can and do win control without anything close to a majority of first-place votes.

As for claims that this system will prompt candidates to play nicer with competitors whose supporters they may wind up needing, good luck with that – Australian politics is often every bit as nasty as what we see here.

And while advocates of ranked-choice voting claim it will mute the harsh impact of big-money political attack machines, most of the ad spending on major races comes not from candidates but from political action committees with specific agendas. These groups are not often interested in compromise or moderation, and their incentive to handle competitors to their chosen candidate with kid gloves is minimal.

Question Two has a worthy goal. Voters will have to decide if it achieves it.

Jon Keller

  1. Thomas Graves says:

    As always, a level head in an upside-down world!

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