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Boston councilors seek shakeup in how city officials are elected, but no, not by moving the elections to even-numbered years

Boston City Councilors Ruthzee Louijeune, Julia Mejia and Henry Santana (all at large) this week will formally propose changing the way Bostonians elect municipal officials to a more Cambridge-like system in which voters would rank candidates in order of preference.

Under "ranked choice voting," the number of total votes cast would determine a margin of victory for each position. When a candidate reaches that number, a voter's second, third or even fourth choices would then be added to candidates who don't win on the first round of counting. Cambridge has long used this system in its city-council elections; Maine recently went to the system for its elections.

Under the proposal by Louijeune, Mejia and Santana, elections for mayor and district city councilor would go from two candidates for each position in the November final to four. At-large final elections already can have up to eight candidates on the November ballot - because there are four seats open.

The councilors say the result would be elections that give voters more of a say in which "elections are decided by candidates who have broad consensus
support, thereby reinforcing the legitimacy and acceptance of election outcomes."

In a 2020 report, the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University further explained:

Allowing voters to rank candidates would also change how votes get counted. As an example, if your top choice turns out to be uncompetitive, your vote will actually transfer to your second choice - as part of a multi-round counting process that helps weed out “spoiler” candidates and ensures winners have a broader base of support.

The councilors plan to request Boston formally ask the state legislature to let Boston change to such a system - if voters then approve it in a referendum.

Statewide, Massachusetts voters rejected the idea of ranked choice voting in a 2020 ballot question. However, Bostonians voted 167,163 to 102,772 in support of the measure.

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Comments

Ranked choice, as done in Cambridge and other places, is a way to *avoid* having preliminary and then final elections.

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I get the concept of ranked choice voting, but if they want to go that way, having the one vote in November would save a lot of money.

Using the system to get to two is surely a political ploy.

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Maybe another councilor will bring that up, either Wednesday or at the hearing on the details of the plan (the way the Boston council generally works: Matters are introduced at a Wednesday meeting, then they're referred to a committee for public hearings and working sessions to hammer out a formal motion that goes back to the entire council for a vote).

In the meantime, though, I went back to the motion they'll be filing Wednesday, and it specifically states part of their proposal is;

Promote four, rather than two, candidates from preliminary elections for mayor and district city councilor.

Every once in awhile, you'll see a race for a district council seat in which there are a ton of candidates (i.e., when somebody retires), but in general, there typically aren't a lot of candidates for a given district seat or even mayor (last time, after Walsh left, there were four candidates for mayor), so maybe their proposal needs to be amended to something like "Promote four, rather than two, candidates from preliminary elections for mayor and district city councilor if there are more than four candidates for the position otherwise, just skip the preliminary."

This section of the HRP cancels the preliminary if there are four or fewer candidates rather than two or fewer:

SECTION 3. Preliminary Elections.
(a) Section 57C of chapter 452 of the Acts of 1948, as so appearing in section 7 of chapter
342 of the Acts of 1983, is hereby amended by striking out, in line 22, the word “two”
and inserting in place thereof the following word:- four.

Ireland is counting their votes right now, and it's one election, several counts as candidates are eliminated and votes are transferred.

A down side is that the vote was on Friday, and as of the posting of this comment, only one of the 17 seats in the European Parliament has been decided.

That said, my cousin got reelected on the 9th count, so that worked out.

These sections of the Ranked Choice Boston FAQ address this question:
https://rankedchoiceboston.org/faq/#FAQ17

"Ranked choice" has always been a phrase which annoys me because in principle it refers to any voting system where voters rank their preferences, even if among that category instant-runoff or single transferable vote is almost always what they mean. (Which are respectively basically the same thing except STV is a quasi-proportional method for filling multiple seats while IRV is the single-seat case.) Advocates like it because it's less confusing sounding: just a nice friendly ranking of choices without worrying about the technicalities, but of course it then actually confuses any desire to consider more specific options.

2021 Mayoral election might have been more interesting.

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The original idea a hundred plus years ago was that odd-year municipal elections would make democracy even more participatory. The history shows that the exact opposite happened. It made municipal elections an even only for city workers and their families, with a few super voters joining in cause they really truly loved their Civics class and Scouting lessons.

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If you go through most town in Massachusetts, in the spring, lawn signs sprout like tulips as people vote for everything from Parks and Recreation Board to Health Board to Town Meeting Member. Yet somehow the towns survive, and the residents aren't overloaded in even numbered hears when they have to vote again in September and November.

Saying that any election is anti-democratic is, well, what do you call it when people think there's too much voting going on?

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Can we change how we fill vacancies? An open seat going to the fifth place finisher has never sat right with me.

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It's how Kristen Strezo first got on our city council.

We should also get rid of the provision that elevates the city council president to the mayoralty if that seat is vacated. I hate the idea of a district counselor who most of the city's electorate never even had a chance to vote on winds up as mayor.

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There is a reason why the city councilors don't actually decide anything of importance

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We don't really need ranked choice voting for municipal elections since they're nonpartisan. The need is in state and congressional elections since the Democratic primary is pretty much the only election that actually matters and we usually have multiple candidates running. Last year's election for the West Roxbury state rep seat is the most recent example of that locally with a spoiler likely changing the result based on the majority of votes going to the two progressive candidates instead of the more conservative winner.

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since they're nonpartisan

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Now that's funny.

I don't disagree that state and federal elections would be improved with RCV. But we shouldn't have to pick and choose which types of elections we use better methods. It's not pie. There's plenty of RCV to go around.

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If this new system will result in fewer incompetent bozos on the council, I am all for it.

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) can be used in a variety of election systems.

For single-winner elections there is no threshold for election - just a series of runoffs based on the ranked ballots to reduce the field down to one winner. This can be used to elect a mayor or a district councillor. This is NOT what Cambridge does in its elections.

Cambridge has no district councillors - they are all elected at-large using proportional representation (PR). To elect nine councillors an election threshold is determined (one-tenth plus one). Candidates who have more than this threshold after the 1st Count are elected and any surplus ballots are distributed to continuing candidates based on secondary rankings. Then follows a series of runoffs to reduce the field to nine candidates - who are then declared elected.

The Cambridge system could be used to elect Boston's four at-large councillors. The threshold for election would then be one-fifth of all valid ballots plus one.

Now if Boston wanted to fully embrace the Cambridge system, they would eliminate all the district councillors and elect the entire City Council using PR. I don't see that happening.

My sense is that the real motivation for this proposal is the fact that Michelle Wu was elected last time as Mayor in large part due to vote-splitting between two prominent Black candidates. If RCV was used in the Mayoral election that might lead to a Black candidate being elected.

Of course you're right, Robert, about the distinctions. To provide greater clarity, the Boston proposal would enact proportional RCV (STV) with fractional transfer for the four at-large seats in the general election, with a 1/5 + 1 threshold. The mayoral and district seats would be single-seat RCV with a majority threshold.

Althea and Annissa Essaibi George in particular come to mind.

why don’t we just go by whoever gets the most signatures on nomination papers? Then we could eliminate the one party system that’s running this state into the ground.