On Thursday June 4, the MassLandlords Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the Voter Choice for Massachusetts Ranked Choice Voting ballot initiative for Fall 2020. Signatures were urgently needed by June 14, 2020.
MassLandlords has employed consensus-oriented voting methods since we were founded. For instance, at our annual business meeting, we use score voting to elect a new director. Our policy priorities survey uses score voting to decide what to work on. Score voting has resulted in consensus-oriented candidates and proposals rising above the wide spectrum of opinions. The result is faster progress on the issues that matter most to everyone.
In Massachusetts, landlords have suffered from this lack of consensus in housing policy. On the one hand, renter advocates outnumber and outspend landlords ten to one, making our viewpoint heard only marginally or not at all. But both landlords and renters lose out to single family owners, who outnumber renters and landlords combined. Single family zoning blocks the creation of badly needed rental housing, leaving many communities exposed to Chapter 40B development and stresses on schools and roads. Everyone loses.
It’s time for deep structural reform in Massachusetts politics, in housing no less than other areas. We need to find consensus and move towards it more quickly.
Signatures Needed by June 14, 2020
Ranked Choice Voting can be on this fall’s ballot, and we need signatures now to ensure that this happens.
Our elected Representatives and Senators are operating in an impossible situation. Because of the way we vote, most elected officials only have support from about 10% of the people in their district. (Imagine 25% turnout and a narrow 50% win: that’s endorsement from only 12.5%.) It’s hard to get something done when you were elected by a quirk of majority rules.
Also consider the fact that almost no one new can run for office to relieve our Reps and Senators of their impossible responsibility. If a promising but unknown candidate ran, they would take away votes from the candidate most like them, and then both would lose. And someone totally opposite would win.
This “spoiler effect” is a major reason why we have over 50% uncontested elections, so few parties, such divided parties, and so much strategic voting.
Now, we have the chance to change the way we elect Representatives and Senators, among other state offices. Every voter could list the candidates in order of preference. This is called “Ranked Choice Voting.” Imagine there are three candidates. If you like the pro-housing candidate, give them a “1”. If you dislike the anti-housing candidate, give them a “3”. Put a “2” beside the remaining candidate. If the pro-housing candidate loses, your vote will transfer to the candidate you ranked “2”.
Ranked Choice Voting works very well in other states and cities. Elected officials govern with broader mandates. Constituents have their nuanced preferences accounted for in every divided race. The Democrat and Republican Parties find new energy and focus, especially in places where Progressives or Conservatives split off and form their own parties, as could finally happen. New energy in every age bracket, every demographic, and every interest can stand for office to tackle the problems of today and the future.
And as a general rule, the winners of elections tend to be the most reasonable. To win, you have to reach across party lines to understand the other side’s perspective. Otherwise, polarizing viewpoints rank too low on too many ballots to be elected. By encouraging candidates to run on coalition building issues, we can unite housing providers, renters, and single-family homeowners in the solutions to our shared housing challenges.
Please sign this petition so we can vote on this new, better method in the fall. Let’s elect Representatives and Senators to make Massachusetts housing policy work better for everyone:
(The petition was closed summer 2020.)
Three Steps You Can Take
- Sign the petition yourself.
- Ask your renters to sign, see below.
- Complete our participation feedback form to let us know that you signed.
Can I ask My Renters to Sign?
Yes, definitely! Suggested text:
Subject: Reducing housing costs
I hope you are well. I am writing to ask you to sign a petition to change the laws in Massachusetts for how we elect officials. The link is below.
Background: Right now, apartments are expensive, but it didn’t always used to be this way. There used to be a lot more housing and a lot newer housing. Now there are too few apartments and houses to go around. Everyone pays more rent and a higher mortgage than we used to. If we are unable to pay, there is very little help available. If we are lucky and do get help, it is a slow and stressful process.
Our elected Representatives and Senators have been trying to fix this for decades. They can’t. Because of the way we vote, most elected officials only have active support from about 10% of the people in their district. And we can’t run for office ourselves. We would take away votes from the candidate most like us, and then we both would lose. Someone totally opposite would win.
We could change the way we elect Representatives and Senators. Every voter could list the candidates in order of preference. This is called “Ranked Choice Voting.” This works very well in other states and fixes these problems. (YouTube example in under 3 minutes.)
Please sign this petition so we can vote on this new, better method in the fall. Let’s elect new Representatives and Senators and create more apartments and more homes that are less expensive for everyone:
What Else Can I Do to Help?
Share your support via your own social media channels.
Is this Different from Instant Runoff Voting?
No, instant runoff, ranked choice, alternative vote, and preferential vote are all the same thing:
Which Offices Would be Impacted?
State offices, including Representative, Senator, Governor, and Attorney General.
Where Can I Read the Full Text of the Initiative?
Read the full text of the Voter Choice for Massachusetts ballot initiative here.
Is there a Video that Explains This in Simple Terms?
FairVote (a national campaign separate from Voter Choice for MA) has the best video.
What is the “Spoiler Effect” Again?
Imagine there are three candidates running for office. The one you most prefer has no chance of winning. Under a normal “first past the post” election system, voting for your first choice would draw a vote away from the closest other candidate. Then an opposite candidate would likely win. The election is spoiled for you because you voted your conscience. This should not happen.
Under ranked choice voting, if your first choice loses, your second choice counts. This lets you say, “I want Candidate A, but if I can’t have A, I’d be okay with Candidate B. I definitely don’t want Candidate C.” Strategically voting for B to prevent C winning will no longer be necessary. You can truthfully vote for A without ensuring C’s victory.
How Does this Help Landlords?
Ranked choice voting will help everyone who cares about rental housing, including landlords, renters, advocacy organizations, and elected officials. Candidates who win under ranked choice voting have to listen to all sides of the argument, otherwise they will be pushed far down the ballot.
For example, zoning has been an intractable problem for decades, in part because landlords, renters, and single-family owners haven’t come together to find common ground around density, noise, parking, schools, etc. And it hasn’t been necessary for any elected official to have these difficult conversations to get elected.
After ranked choice voting is enacted, the candidates who can find meaningful common ground on housing and many other issues will tend to garner broader support than those who do not.
Does Supporting Ranked Choice Mean Opposing Incumbents?
No, any elected official can remain in office provided they work to incorporate all viewpoints in difficult policy decisions. Some are already doing this, others can learn. The point is to create a system that drives movement away from partisanship and toward consensus.
Does Cambridge Have the Same Voting System?
No, Cambridge does not use the form of ranked choice voting proposed for the fall 2020 Massachusetts ballot.
In Cambridge, city councilors are elected at large from a single ballot with a low (~10%) threshold to win. Instead of redistributing votes from ballots whose first choice has clearly lost, Cambridge redistributes so-called “excess” ballots whose first choice has already won. In other words, if your preferred candidate wins a seat, it’s more likely your second choice will win, as well. This is the exact opposite of what is wanted.
Although the Cambridge system has tended to create a racially diverse city council by virtue of a very low bar to being elected (10% approval), the Cambridge system does little to address the lack of consensus in politics. The one consensus mechanism is that some losing ballots do have their votes redistributed in later rounds. But overall, candidates for Cambridge city council can adopt fringe ideologies and do no work to cross party or ideological lines and still be elected. Gridlock around flawed housing policy can be seen in the past (rent control) and even recently (overlay zoning).
Unlike Cambridge, Voter Choice for Massachusetts eliminates the candidate with the least first place votes and redistributes those ballots. So if you don't get your first pick, you can still get your second. No candidate reaches office until they receive a clear majority of support having worked at least somewhat to find consensus among the various ideologies at play.
Did the MassLandlords Membership Weigh in on this?
We get member input before every decision. This Board endorsement is based on five years of member participation in our nontraditional 'score voting' system, which we use to elect officers at our Annual Business Meeting and Annual Elections as well as on our Policy Priorities Survey.
Our policy priorities survey shows that opposing housing partisanship with proposals that have strong economic counterindications and low consensus is far and away the number one policy objective of the membership, whichever way we ask the question or whichever particular policy we are considering. A clear nexus exists between our current electoral processes and divisive housing policies, and this won't go away until and unless we change the system that produced it in the first place. The membership have been weighing in for years that this change is supported.
(The petition was closed summer 2020.)
Fact or Fiction?
Ranked choice voting can result in the person with fewer votes winning elections.
False. The person who wins will have an aggregate highest number of votes considering all preferences for viable candidates. If anyone chooses a nonviable candidate as a first preference, their vote will be reassigned to a viable candidate.
Ranked choice voting dilutes the power of each vote
False. Ranked choice voting is still "one person, one vote."
Ranked choice voting is unconstitutional
False. The winner of a ranked choice ballot has a majority consistent with our state constitution.
Ranked choice voting is worse for my party if I am reasonable and my political opposition is insane.
False. A candidate who can win a ranked choice ballot has to listen to both sides of the equation and make reasonable arguments. Raw numbers are less important than appearing to find common ground.
Let's use an example without numbers, for simplicity. Because we are using ranked choice, there are three major candidates running. Incumbent Representative Partisan is driving a policy that her well organized and numerous voting block support, but which is strongly opposed by a reasonable minority with valid objections. Candidate Consensus seeks to unseat Representative Partisan in an upcoming election by blending the valid points of her argument with the minority viewpoint and incorporating both into a policy suggestion that everyone can agree on. Candidate Contrarian is from a weaker/smaller party and is primarily playing the role of opposition, saying the opposite of whatever Partisan says.
- Representative Partisan's voting block will rank Partisan first, Consensus second, and Contrarian last.
- Contrarian's supporters will do the opposite, leaving Consensus in the middle.
- Consensus' first-choice supporters may be smaller than the group of supporters for either Partisan or Contrarian.
In round one: Partisan is in the lead with Consensus second, and Contrarian, being from the smaller party, last. Contrarian is eliminated and their votes will transfer to Consensus.
In round two: Consensus's first round votes combined with second place votes from Contrarian's ballot give Consensus a majority over Partisan. Consensus wins.
“Structural change” is best accomplished by voting out all incumbents
False. Incumbents do not have to be voted out for change to take place, they just have to work to find consensus.
As a practical matter, clearly we are powerless to vote anyone out anyway: over 70% of Massachusetts elections are uncontested and incumbents win 90% of the time. But consider the subsequent five or ten years after ranked choice ballots pass, it is very likely that either incumbency will sharply decrease or incumbents will start adopting more consensus-oriented viewpoints. Ranked choice will facilitate removal of non-consensus candidates and/or consensus-oriented behaviors among incumbents. Everybody can feel good about this reform.
Ranked Choice is Trickery
False, there's nothing tricky about ranked choice voting. Ballots are recorded and can be audited in the same way as a normal ballot. Note that MassLandlords uses a non-traditional ballot of all of our policy priorities survey and annual elections for director.
It's our own fault for voting for partisans
False. Majority rules degenerates to a two-party system because there are two halves to fight over. Each party swings out to extremes for the primaries, to rally strong base support, and then swings back to center for the general election to capture the undecided moderates and the personality (or non-issue) voters. Anyone who wants to vote third-party is taking votes away from a major party, so there are no viable third-party candidates. Also, there is only muted opposition to fringe viewpoints during primary season. Ranked choice will permit more parties and will encourage consistent work toward consensus throughout a campaign cycle.
MassLandlords should focus on Housing Policy and not Electoral Reform
It is in the best interest of all members that our legislature and elected officials produce policies that reflect minority viewpoints. Landlords are an economic minority, and landlords and renters combined are an economic minority compared to single family owners. Some things are not quick fixes, this is a long-term structural change that will greatly aid our mission to create better rental housing in Massachusetts.
(The petition was closed summer 2020.)
Right now, we’re forced to choose one candidate. With ranked choice voting, we can list the candidates as “First choice, second choice, third choice” in the order we prefer.