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How to prevent another Fall River recall election pitfall

Mayor Jasiel Correia of Fall River speaks to the media after he won a stunning reelection bid in the Mayoral Recall Election on Tuesday. Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

No, it wasn’t an election stunner.

The possibility that voters might both recall Jasiel Correia as mayor of Fall River in Tuesday’s election and then immediately reelect him was a well-known risk. It’s the result of a strange set of quirks in the state’s election laws that need to be fixed.

The 27-year-old politician, whom federal prosecutors charged with fraud and tax evasion five months ago, was the second Fall River mayor to face a recall election in five years. Most voters wanted him out of office: 61 percent, or 7,829 ballots, voted to oust him.


But the second part of the ballot asked voters to pick his replacement, and Correia was allowed to run to replace himself. He won that decision with only 35 percent of the vote against a divided field.

The bottom line: The clear wishes of Fall River voters to oust him were thwarted.

In one sense, Correia’s reelection reflects a common electoral paradox: The more disliked a candidate is, then the more people who will be interested in running against him. Under rules in which it only takes a plurality to win, unpopularity becomes strangely advantageous.

There are ways to prevent a repeat of Tuesday’s result. One would be for the state simply to ban incumbents from running in recall elections in municipalities that allow them. The best option, though, would be to enact ranked-choice voting, an electoral system that’s getting more and more traction as a viable alternative because it addresses many pitfalls of our current voting process.

Ranked-choice allows voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference; if no candidate gets 50 percent or more of first-choice votes, then the last-place candidate is eliminated and his or her votes automatically get reallocated to the second choice listed on that candidate’s ballots. The process then repeats as many times as needed until one candidate earns a majority of votes.


Adam Friedman, executive director of Voter Choice Massachusetts, the nonprofit organization pushing for ranked-choice to be adopted in the state, said Fall River is a textbook case for electoral reform. If Fall River had used ranked-choice voting, voters who wanted Correia out of office presumably would have ranked him as one of their last choices as a replacement.

Friedman said two bills have been filed in the state Legislature that already have garnered 82 unique cosponsors, or 41 percent of both chambers. One bill would enact ranked-choice for every nonpresidential federal and state election in Massachusetts (for primaries and general elections). The second bill would allow cities and towns to adopt ranked-choice voting for their local elections (right now they can adopt it only by initiating changes to their charter or via home rule petitions).

What happened in Fall River wasn’t altogether surprising, and it could happen again. Ranked-choice voting would result in a winner who reflects the majority of voters and not just an electoral plurality, and Tuesday’s results should inspire the Legislature to move the ranked-choice bills forward.