Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 13, 2011

Voter Choice Local Option Proposal

Filed under: elections — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 9:37 am

A bill was filed (January 2011) in the Massachusetts State Legislature that would permit cities and towns in Massachusetts to adopt Instant Runoff Voting using ranked choice ballots in their local elections. This local option could be adopted for single winner elections and/or multi-seat (at-large) elections such as a city council or school committee.

How do people feel about this enabling legislation? Bear in mind that this proposal would not impose any changes to any local elections. It would simply grant the right to Massachusetts cities and towns to adopt ranked choice voting without having to file a home rule petition for a Special Act of the legislature. More information is available at The text of the bill follows.

Voter Choice Local Option Proposal (January 2011)

HD 02026: An Act Providing a Local Option for Instant Runoff Voting in City or Town Elections

SECTION 1: Section 44A of chapter 43 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2008 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out, in line 7, the words "section forty-four G" and inserting in place thereof the words "sections 44G and 103R".

SECTION 2: Section 77 of chapter 54 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2008 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out, in line 5, the words "section thirty-three E" and inserting in place thereof the words "sections 33E and 103R".

SECTION 3: Chapter 54 is hereby further amended by inserting after section 103Q the following section:-

Section 103R. Instant Runoff Voting in city or town elections

(a) Notwithstanding any other general or special law to the contrary, any city or town may conduct a local election using instant runoff voting in which voters rank the candidates for an office in order of preference. Instant runoff voting elections may be used for single-winner elections, such as Mayor, or for elections that elect multiple candidates to office, such as city council. Instant runoff voting elections are tabulated in rounds using the "single transferable vote" method. Winning thresholds shall be calculated based on the number of countable votes and the number of seats to be filled. General provisions for either single-winner elections or multiple-winner elections shall be specified by ordinance, provided that a person’s lower ranked choices shall not harm the likelihood of their higher ranked choices becoming elected. Such ordinances shall be enacted by the municipality’s legislative body, be it a city council, board of alderman, board of selectmen, or town meeting, and the body shall request the input of the community’s registrars of voters and town clerk or city election commissioners. The ordinance shall specify at a minimum the method of calculating winning thresholds, how candidates with the fewest votes shall be eliminated before a subsequent round of the tally, how votes for eliminated candidates shall be transferred to the voter’s next valid choice, how ties shall be dealt with, how ballots that skip a ranking or otherwise are mismarked shall be counted, and in the case of multi-seat contests, how surplus votes above the winning threshold for a candidate shall be transferred to alternate choices. Preliminary elections shall not be held in cities and towns using instant runoff voting for all offices that would otherwise require preliminary elections.

(b) A voting method authorized by this section may be adopted by any of the following:

(1) By approval of a ballot measure submitted to the voters by the governing body of the city or town at a regular or special election.

(2) By initiative ordinance or charter amendment.

(c) Any city or town using a instant runoff voting method shall conduct a voter education and outreach campaign to familiarize voters with ranked voting.

(d) The instant runoff voting ballot shall allow voters to rank as many choices as there are candidates. In the event that the voting equipment cannot feasibly accommodate a number of rankings on the ballot equal to the number of candidates, town registrars of voters or city election commissioners may limit the number of choices a voter may rank to the maximum number allowed by the equipment. If there are three or more candidates, this limit shall never be less than three.

(e) The ballot shall not interfere with a voter’s ability to rank at least one write-in candidate. For the purposes of this section, a mark for an unqualified write-in candidate shall not be considered a mark for a candidate.

(f) After four years, a city or town which has adopted instant runoff voting may choose to return to its prior voting method by any of the following:

(1) By approval of a ballot measure submitted to the voters by the governing body of the city or town at a regular or special election.

(2) By an initiative ordinance or charter amendment.

SECTION 4: This act shall take effect upon its passage.

1 Comment

  1. I approve of the legislation to allow towns and cities in Ma. to use Instant Run Off Voting ( IRV ) for their elections. THIS SYSTEM OF VOTING IS A VERY FAIR WAY OF MAKING SURE THAT A MAJORITY OF PEOPLE ( WHO CHOOSE TO VOTE ) IN AN ELECTION ACTUALLY VOTE TO PUT SOMEONE IN OFFICE. All over the country election districts are choosing to use this system when the system is explained over time. Anyone wanting to find out more about this method of voting can go to FAIRVOTE.ORG or just ask Robert Winters to explain further.

    Comment by bob richards — June 14, 2011 @ 6:38 am

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