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Idea of ranked-choice voting sets off spirited debate

Ballots are prepared to be tabulated for Maine's Second Congressional District's House election on Nov. 12, 2018, in Augusta, Maine. The election was the first congressional race in American history to be decided by the ranked-choice voting method that allows second choices.Robert F. Bukaty

It’s our current voting system that’s vulnerable to being gamed

There are several important problems with Jennifer C. Braceras’s op-ed opposing ranked-choice voting (“No, it threatens to distort election outcomes,” Dec. 12). Perhaps the most serious is a false argument that RCV promotes strategic voting (Braceras writes that “voting shouldn’t require a degree in game theory”).

Braceras imagines a hypothetical RCV Democratic primary that Bernie Sanders wins after several rounds of elimination. She maintains that had Joe Biden’s supporters “known that selecting Sanders as even a third or fourth choice would ultimately undermine their preferred candidate,” they would have been inclined to rank candidates “differently,” i.e., to vote strategically.


But this is untrue. Under RCV, voters who rank Biden first cannot improve his chances by gaming the rest of their ranking. That is because how they rank other candidates comes into play only after Biden has already been eliminated.

By contrast, the current voting system — in which a citizen votes for a single candidate — is highly vulnerable to strategizing. If Biden supporters come to feel that moderate Pete Buttigieg has a better chance than their candidate of beating left-winger Sanders, they may well switch horses.

Yes, a voter shouldn’t need a degree in game theory, and that’s a big reason why ranked-choice voting is better.

Eric Maskin


The writer, a professor of economics and mathematics at Harvard University, is a Nobel laureate in economics and a member of the advisory board of Voter Choice Massachusetts.

Mainer is not pleased to be stuck with ranked-choice voting

Although, as a Maine resident, I am stuck with it, I dislike ranked-choice voting, or RCV. To the well-stated comments of Jennifer C. Braceras, I would add the following, more simplistic points:

One person, one vote. I was led to believe that that was a well-accepted construct in our nation’s election processes. Not in Maine, or anywhere else with RCV. All the votes you want, apparently.


Second, I find it hard to understand how one person’s second, third, fourth, or even fifth so-called vote should have the same power to elect a candidate as another person’s first and only vote. (Not that I like the system at all, but if we must have it, perhaps it would be more fair, or less unfair, if a second-choice vote for a candidate counted as half of a vote, a third-choice vote counted as one-third of a vote, etc.)

And to professor Lawrence Lessig, who wrote in counterpoint to Braceras (“Yes, election winners should be supported by a majority of voters”) I say: Democracy? I thought we had a constitutional republic.

Nicholas G. Xenos

York, Maine

Something the ‘never (candidate name here)’ voters could embrace

Jennifer C. Braceras seems to want to retain a voting system that gives an advantage to candidates to whom most voters are seriously averse.

She describes a situation in which, with ranked-choice voting, Elizabeth Warren gets 40 percent of first-place votes in the Massachusetts primary, but eventually loses to Bernie Sanders, who initially received only 15 percent. This can only happen if virtually none of the non-Warren voters choose her second. This is an unthinkable scenario with reasonable candidates.

Braceras’s scenario could happen, though. Suppose an authoritarian, racist, inexperienced, divisive, self-centered, lying swindler with a certain charisma ran in presidential primaries. Suppose the swindler is supported by 30 percent of the voters, and the other 70 percent abhor the swindler. Reasonable candidates would rush to challenge the swindler, which would be a disaster: Under our current system, the swindler would win the primaries with his 30 percent, despite 70 percent of voters desperately wishing for a way to vote “never swindler.” The more good candidates who come forward, the more likely the swindler is to win.


But ranked-choice voting would gradually reduce the field of reasonable candidates, giving each eliminated candidate’s tallies to the voters’ second choices until one of those candidates has a majority, thereby saving our democracy from a tyrant.

Peter Grey