Despite a well-financed campaign with thousands of volunteers, the ranked-choice voting ballot intiative in Massachusetts was defeated by about 10 percentage points, according to Associated Press returns.
So, why did the ballot intiative fail?
Some political scientists say the proposed change to the state's election system may have appeared too confusing.
"These are turbulent times and the status quo is always a safer choice than change in general," said Suffolk University Political Science Professor Rachael Cobb. "If people are hearing that it's complicated, especially when they're feeling like life is really complicated, they may say, 'You know, we've been doing it this other way for a long time, it seems to be OK. Why change?'"
Cobb supported the question, which would have allowed voters to select multiple candidates for an elected position, ranked in order of preference.
Supporters argued the sytem would be especially helpful in elections like the crowded Democratic primary for the 4th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Joe Kennedy III.
"Most voters don't have any experience with ranked-choice voting," said Political Science Professor Peter Ubertaccio, dean of the Thomas and Donna May School of Arts & Sciences at Stonehill College. "Most voters don't have any experience with any other kind of electoral system. So to inject a change such as that into the process of voting really requires some explanation in terms of what folks are hoping to achieve and then how it's going to work — and also the pros and cons of such a change."
That explanation, Ubertaccio said, does not seem to have been heard or accepted by voters, possibly because of a confluence of factors during this election.
"Ballot questions in presidential election years suffer from a lack of political oxygen," he said. "Everyone's thinking about the big races."
Also, he said, proponents of ballot questions usually rely on community forums to get their message out. "Community forums are very difficult to do in a pandemic," Ubertaccio said.
Without those forums, he said, those supporting the measure were left to rely on television advertising, "which is not always the best place to get at some of the underlying issues for complicated matters of public policy or electoral policy."
Ubertaccio said changes like this are better made through the legislative process, where there's more room for thoughtful conversation.
"But ranked-choice voting could very likely threaten the electoral paths for members of the legislature, so it's not likely that we're going to see the change there," he added.
Gov. Charlie Baker cited the added costs for holding elections and the complications that ranked-choice voting could present to the state's election system as he explained his opposition to the ballot question last week.
"We're seeing right now how tough elections are already and how complicated they can become, and to add this labyrinth into the system is just a terrible idea, and the average person gets that," said former Massachusetts secretary of state candidate Anthony Amore, who served as a spokesperson for the campaign against the ballot question.
Those opposing ranked-choice voting were vastly outspent by the campaign supporting the ballot question, which took in nearly $10 million, in large part from out-of-state contributors. Amore said all that money might not have been an asset.
"One thing that didn't ring true for voters is the promise of the pro side that it would get money out of politics, while they were bringing in around $10 million to implement it," Amore said. "So that seemed incongruous, I think, to people."
In acknowledging the defeat, the ballot question's proponents highlighted that the campaign received over 128,000 signatures to get the question on the ballot and had 7,400 volunteers.
"Even amidst a global pandemic, we were able to mobilize a movement to strengthen our democracy in a time when it’s needed most," Yes on 2 Campaign Manager Cara Brown McCormick said in a statement. "We were attempting to do something historic in Massachusetts and fell short, but the incredible groundswell of support from volunteers and reformers that assembled behind this campaign is reason enough to stay optimistic about the future of our democracy.”