Ranked-choice voting question fails despite wealthy backers

Boston (AP) — Supporters of a ballot question that would have dramatically changed the way votes are cast and tallied in Massachusetts raised nearly $10 million to persuade voters to adopt the change — but ultimately failed at the ballot box Tuesday.

Question 2 organizers had hoped to create a ranked-choice voting system intended to help avoid the “spoiler effect” by guaranteeing a candidate couldn’t be declared a winner without eventually gathering the support of a majority of voters.

“We came up short in this election, and we are obviously deeply disappointed,” Cara Brown McCormick, campaign manager for the Yes on 2 Campaign, said in a statement Wednesday.

“We were attempting to do something historic in Massachusetts and fell short, but the incredible groundswell of support from volunteers and reformers that assembled behind this campaign is reason enough to stay optimistic about the future of our democracy,” McCormick added.

Massachusetts voters rejected the change in an election dominated by the presidential contest pitting Democrat Joe Biden against Republican Donald Trump.

The loss came despite the backing of deep-pocketed donors including the Houston, Texas-based nonprofit Action Now Initiative — a project of Texas philanthropist couple John and Laura Arnold.

Others who gave hefty sums include Kathryn Murdoch, wife of James Murdoch, the younger son of Rupert Murdoch, Jonathan Soros, son of billionaire George Soros; Katherine Gehl, president of Wisconsin-based Gehl Foods; and Maximillian Stone, managing director of the New York-based investment management first D.E. Shaw & Co.

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The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance helped lead the opposition to the question, raising less than $10,000.

“Out of state billionaires spent over $10 million to try to make Massachusetts a guinea pig for their ranked-choice experiment,” Paul Diego Craney, a representative of the group, said in a statement Wednesday.

Opponents received a boost from Gov. Charlie Baker, who spoke out against the question last week.

“At a time when we need to be promoting turnout and making it easier for voters to cast their ballots, we worry that Question Two will add an additional layer of complication for both voters and election officials, while potentially delaying results and increasing the cost of elections,” Baker said in joint statement with fellow Republican, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

Advocates of the ballot question were able to enlist some of their own high-profile supporters including U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and state Attorney General Maura Healey, both Democrats, who collaborated on a video explaining how ranked-choice voting works.

The campaign also won the support of two former Massachusetts governors — Democrat Deval Patrick and Republican William Weld — and former Democratic U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State John Kerry.

The system would have significantly altered the way elections are conducted in Massachusetts, giving voters the option of ranking candidates on the ballot in order of their preference — one for their top choice, two for their second choice, and so on.

If a candidate received a majority of first-place votes, that candidate would win. If no candidate received a majority of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. Voters who ranked the eliminated candidate as their first choice would have their votes counted instead for their second choice.

The process would have repeated until one candidate received a majority of the vote. The new system would have applied to state and federal elections and primaries in Massachusetts beginning in 2022. It would not have been used in presidential elections.

The system is similar to the ranked-choice voting system currently used in Maine.

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