PROVIDENCE — Governor Daniel J. McKee won Tuesday’s five-way Democratic gubernatorial primary with less than 33 percent of the vote, providing fresh fodder for those fighting for a ranked-choice voting system.
On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Providence College political science Professor Adam S. Myers analyzed Tuesday’s key primaries and provided some insight about the possibility of an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots.
“I think that discussion has already started,” Myers said. “We now have the Democratic nominee for governor winning that nomination with 33 percent of the vote — far, far below a majority. A majority of Democratic voters did not support him yesterday. And I do think this raises serious questions about, well, if we’re in a democratic political system where majority rules, how can we have this?”
A ranked-choice voting system could ensure the winner of a primary or general election has majority support, but it could pose other problems, he said. “So I think we’re going to have a very robust debate in this state about that topic,” he said.
In a state dominated by Democrats, many of the more important races are Democratic primaries as opposed to general election matchups against Republicans, and the legislature could create ranked-choice voting in primaries by statute, Myers said. But, he said, “If we wanted ranked-choice voting at the general election level, we’d probably need a state constitutional amendment because the state Constitution currently says that the winner has to have the plurality of the vote, meaning more votes than anybody else,” he said.
Would General Assembly members support changing the voting system that got them elected?
“Listen, I think it’s going to be a long slog,” Myers said. “There’s definitely folks in the State House who are not going to be happy with the idea of completely overhauling our elections process. I think it will probably require a lot of sort of public pressure. There will need to be a campaign built up from the ground up to put pressure on the legislature to make this change. That’s the only way these kinds of things happen.”
Myers outlined some of the key factors that propelled McKee to victory.
“He basically did it by being an incumbent first and foremost, having that name recognition, by consolidating support from organized labor, and, quite frankly, by benefiting from the fact that the opposition was split among three or four different candidates,” he said.
Myers said he was “very surprised” that McKee refused to take Foulkes’ call to concede while he was on live TV celebrating his victory.
“It seemed like pretty bad form to me,” he said. “I was trying to put myself in McKee’s shoes, being up on the podium, giving a victory speech and getting a call when you’re in the middle of something. I was trying to understand maybe it just sort of flustered him. But all the same, it’s just not good form.”
McKee and Foulkes did connect by phone late Wednesday morning, when she congratulated him on his victory.
Myers said that overall progressive Democrats fell short in trying to make gains in Tuesday’s primaries.
“I think the dominant story is that it was a very good night for establishment Democrats and for centrist Democrats more generally,” he said. “And it was, quite frankly, a horrible night for progressive insurgents. They racked up just a few wins in races that were not terribly surprising to me. But in many of the races that we are paying attention to most closely, they just came up short.”
Myers noted that the top House and Senate leaders fended off progressive challenges in their districts. House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, “easily dispatched his opponent,” and “more surprisingly” Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, “completely clobbered” his opponent, he said. “As a general matter, leadership did very well.”
Myers said perhaps the biggest upset came in House District 9 where House Labor Committee chair Anastasia P. Williams, a Providence Democrat, who has been in office for nearly 30 years, lost to 25-year-old progressive Enrique Sanchez, the former political director of the Black Lives Matter RI PAC.
“She’s been there for a very, very long time,” he said of Williams. “On the other hand, that district in the West End of Providence is one of the most left-wing districts in the state. So, you know, the outcome of that race was surprising, but not terribly so.”
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.