Frequently Asked Questions
What is the effect of a “yes” vote on the main motion?
If Town Meeting passes this motion and if the state approves it as home rule legislation, all Lexington town elections after 1st January, 2025 will use Ranked Choice Voting.
What offices would be elected by Ranked Choice Voting?
The main motion calls for RCV to apply to all town-wide offices:
Lexington Housing Authority
It would not apply to state or federal elections.
What benefits would Ranked Choice Voting bring?
Is Ranked Choice Voting easy for voters?
Filling out a ranked ballot has proven easy for voters in practice:
What does a Ranked Choice Voting ballot look like?
How would votes be counted under Ranked Choice Voting?
For a single seat election, ballots are counted in rounds until there are only two candidates left. In each round, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated and those ballots are instantly counted for the next choice marked on each ballot. When there are only two choices remaining, the candidate with the majority (more than 50%) of the votes wins the seat.
In a multi-seat election, rather than requiring candidates to reach 50% of the vote, the threshold is lowered to allow more candidates to win and more voters to be represented. For n number of seats, the threshold is 1/(n+1), meaning 33% in a 2-seat race, 25% in a 3-seat race, and so on. Just like the single-seat case, if no candidate exceeds the threshold, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and those ballots count for their next choice instead. In addition, if a candidate receives more than enough votes to win, their surplus votes are counted for the next choice on their ballots. Read more details at FairVote.com.
Do voters need to rank all the candidates?
No, voters can rank as many or as few candidates as they wish, including just one.
Does Ranked Choice Voting increase the frequency of invalid ballots?
No. To cast a valid RCV ballot, a voter needs only mark a valid first choice, which is just as easy as voting for a single candidate on a plurality ballot today. A thorough 2016 study researched this question and found no higher invalid ballot rates under RCV. In fact, the raw data from the study showed fewer invalid ballots under RCV, although the difference in invalid ballot rates wasn’t statistically significant.
Is there an incentive to “bullet vote” (vote for only one in a multi-seat election) under RCV?
Unlike our current system, there is no incentive to “bullet vote” under RCV. With RCV, your ballot will never count for your second choice until your first choice is either elected or eliminated, so there is no way for your second choice to affect the fate of your first choice. In our current multi-seat elections, there is a strategic incentive to “bullet vote,” which encourages gamesmanship. With RCV, It is still perfectly valid to rank only one candidate—that is a legitimate expression of one’s preference—but there would no longer be an incentive to do so as a voting strategy.
What happens when a voter skips a ranking on a ballot?
Skipped rankings are rare under RCV. When they do occur, the motion proposes to treat them as follows:
Where is Ranked Choice Voting used?
Today, 64 American jurisdictions use RCV, reaching approximately 13 million voters. This includes two states, two counties, and 60 cities and towns. In six states that require a runoff if needed to achieve a majority in federal elections, military and overseas voters cast ranked ballots in the initial election.
In Massachusetts, two cities, Cambridge and Easthampton, use RCV. Six additional cities and towns have submitted home rule petitions for RCV in the current legislative session. RCV is also in the draft charter of the City of Somerville, which the city plans to submit as home rule legislation by the end of the year.
How much would implementing Ranked Choice Voting cost?
Our new voting machines already support RCV and are used in RCV elections in other U.S. jurisdictions. However, the Town would need to purchase a software package from our vendor at a cost of approximately $12,500 with an annual recurring upgrade at a cost of $1,200. The software would help streamline the process of tabulating votes for state and federal elections, as well.
Would voters try to game a multi-seat RCV race by giving their first choice to a candidate perceived as being behind to the detriment of the front-runner they favor?
No, that doesn’t happen in practice, primarily because of how the election threshold works. It’s the entire reason the threshold exists. If your favorite candidate has more support than they need to be elected, the rest of your vote counts towards your next choice. Ranked Choice Voting takes the guesswork out of voting, so you can vote for the perceived front-runner first, and if they do win the first seat, then whatever portion of your vote the front-runner didn’t need to win counts towards your next choice.
Does Ranked Choice Voting boost voter turnout?
In the context of US municipal elections, the research is too limited to say conclusively that RCV boosts turnout. Some studies find that RCV has a positive impact on turnout; some studies find no impact; and one author found a negative impact. Some international research suggests that adoption of alternative voting methods, particularly proportional methods, boosts turnout by 2 to 7 percentage points in elections over time. However, we do not claim that Lexington would see the same effect in local elections.
Are Professor Eitan Hersh’s claims about Ranked Choice Voting valid?
More than 50 academics around the state supported Question 2 for RCV in 2020. That list includes political scientists, professors of government, experts in election law and public policy, mathematicians, sociologists, economists (including one Nobel Laureate), and more. To our knowledge, Professor Hersh is the only professor statewide to have publicly opposed the question. For a detailed rebuttal of Professor Hersh’s claims see here.
How does Lexington’s Home Rule Petition compare to others that have been passed?
Lexington's Home Rule Petition is drafted based on the language in similar petitions previously approved by Massachusetts cities and towns. Proportional RCV for multiseat elections is part of the approved petitions of Acton, Amherst, Concord, Brookline, and Northampton; and is already in use in the City of Cambridge.
Who supports Ranked Choice Voting?
It is supported by the League of Women Voters, MassVOTE, Common Cause, Massachusetts Democratic Party, Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Coalition, Amplify LatinX, MassPIRG, RepresentUS, Sunrise Movement, Massachusetts Sierra Club, and many others.