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Easthampton, Mass., Makes Push For Ranked-Choice Voting

Several rows of sign-holders greet voters as they drive down the driveway to White Brook Middle School in Easthampton, Massachusetts.
Sam Hudzik
A voting scene in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

Officials in Easthampton, Massachusetts, are appealing to state lawmakers to let the city of 16,000 decide whether to adopt ranked-choice voting and extend the mayor's term from two to four years.

City officials, including Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, urged the Municipalities Committee to advance a bill (S 2229) that would place both reforms on the city ballot in November. The ranked-choice system would apply to mayoral and precinct-based city council elections.

In such a system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If one candidate receives 50 percent of the first-choice votes cast, the candidate is declared the winner. If not, an instant runoff occurs in which the candidate who received the least number of votes in the prior round is eliminated and all the ballots are recounted based on voters' highest-ranked remaining candidate. The process is repeated until one candidate receives at least 50 percent of the total.

Speaking to ranked-choice voting, LaChapelle wrote to lawmakers that the reform would enhance the relevancy of prospective candidates "whose demographic is not represented in city government."

The two voting reforms were approved May 16 by the Easthampton City Council after arriving as recommendations from the city's Charter Review Committee.

The Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government immediately voted in favor of the bill. Committee co-chair Sen. Becca Rausch said she was "particularly excited" to see the ranked-choice voting measure before the panel since she is a sponsor of a bill (S 420) to allow the voting reform to be adopted locally without requiring state approval.

Easthampton does not hold preliminary elections, which are used in many communities to narrow non-partisan fields of candidates. Easthampton City Council member Tom Peake wrote in written testimony that the big concern among candidates about holding preliminary elections was the cost of the elections and low turnout.

According to Peake, Easthampton's voting system was purchased from Dominion Voting System, a company whose tabulators have been used in ranked-choice elections, including last year in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

LaChapelle described the four-year mayoral term as an "efficiency initiative," citing fiscal constraints facing cities and towns and writing that a two-year term "does not provide for [a] smooth transitive process."

The group Voter Choice Massachusetts is planning a lobby day in July to urge passage of Rausch's bill and legislation (S 414) sponsored by Sen. Jason Lewis and Rep. Andres Vargas regarding the adoption of ranked-choice voting in state and federal elections. According to the group, ranked-choice voting has been enacted or used for elections in 20 states.

This report was originally published by State House News Service.

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