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Mail-in voting turned Tuesday’s primary election in Massachusetts into a thing of beauty

We can make it even better.


By Yvonne Abraham Globe Columnist


It’s easy to see why the president’s GOP is terrified of mail-in voting.

For those of us who take the quaint position that every eligible citizen should be able to vote easily, mail-in ballots turned Tuesday’s primary election in Massachusetts into a thing of beauty. At least 1.4 million people cast ballots. You have to go all the way back to 1990 to best that tally.

This, in the midst of a pandemic. And using a system making its first, bumpy run. Spectacular!

Compare our flawed but still gorgeous exercise in democracy with the distressing images we saw coming out of Wisconsin and Georgia earlier this year, with frustrated voters battling election regulations designed to make it harder for Democrat-leaners to vote and which compelled voters to line up for hours, risking their health to exercise their rights. Donald Trump and his enablers have openly admitted that suppressing votes is central to their electoral strategy. To that end, the president and his ethical nightmare of a US Postal Service chief have been messing with the mail service. You can’t count votes that don’t make it to city halls on time, right? Even without their interference, we have some serious kinks to work out of our system here before November. Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager at voting advocacy group MassVOTE, ticked off a host of problems with the voting that ended on Tuesday night: The state sent ballot applications late because they hadn’t been translated into enough languages; some voters didn’t receive ballots in time to mail them or found that the ones they sent in hadn’t been counted, so they scrambled to vote in person. Some elections officials appear to have struggled to handle the ballots they got. Add much higher turnout, colder weather, and flu season to the mix, and you have the potential for worse problems in the fall. Still, vote-by-mail is clearly great, and we should do it in every election, even after the pandemic has passed. And while we’re perfecting democracy, let’s also add ranked-choice voting to make sure those elections truly reflect the will of the most voters.

To see why, look at the Democratic primary for the seat vacated by Joe Kennedy III — who lost a challenge to Senator Ed Markey Tuesday. As of Wednesday afternoon, that race was still undecided, with Newton’s Jake Auchincloss narrowly leading Brookline’s Jesse Mermell. Whatever happens in that race, it’s clear the winner in the seven-way contest will be heading to Congress with just a quarter of the vote or less.

We’ve seen this in other nail-biter congressional contests in recent years: There’s so little churn in Massachusetts politics that every vacancy draws huge fields of candidates, leading to razor-thin margins and winners chosen by a small sliver of the electorate. So Lori Trahan won in the Third Congressional District with under 22 percent of the vote; Katherine Clark was first elected by under a third of the Fifth District; and Mike Capuano, who represented the Seventh before Ayanna Pressley primaried him and won, went to Washington with about 23 percent support in a 10-way contest in 1998.

That is no mandate. Ranked choice voting would allow citizens to pick not just one candidate, but a second choice, a third, and so on. If her first choice lands at the bottom of the field, her vote would pass to her second choice. On it would go, with the bottom candidate eliminated, and preferences distributed, until one candidate passes 50 percent. In the Fourth, at least 7,000 voters chose one of two candidates who ended up dropping out and endorsing Mermell, wiping away their votes. Ranked choice voting would mean those votes would have counted, if voters had also chosen other candidates.

Mermell is a friend of mine, so I have stayed out of this contest. But this isn’t about individual candidates: It’s about electing leaders who fully reflect voters’ wishes. A bonus: With ranked choice voting, anybody with a yen to run could do so, without risking becoming a spoiler, or of splitting progressive or conservative votes.

I want to live in that world. If you do too, you can bring ranked choice voting to Massachusetts by voting Yes on Question 2 on the November ballot.

Which, let us pray, you will do via a vote-by-mail process that runs like a dream.


This story originally appeared in The Boston Globe. Check it out here!

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