I Think the Concept of a recalled mayor immediately winning election to the same seat he had just lost was awfully interesting, and Alexander’s tag about it pretty thought-provoking. He decided to expound on it a bit. But first, let’s start with the story, from True’s 17 March 2019 issue:
The Won’t of the People
Jasiel F. Correia II was mayor of Fall River, Mass. But he was facing federal charges of tax evasion and fraud, so there was a recall election. He lost: more than 60 percent of voters decided he should go. But the same ballot asked a second question: who should be the new mayor? Five candidates ran, and the plurality of the vote, about 35 percent, went to the incumbent. So now, having been recalled from office and elected to replace himself, Jasiel F. Correia II is mayor of Fall River, Mass. (AC/Boston Globe) …Still think letting the person with the most votes win is the best way to determine the will of the people?
(“AC” is True contributor Alexander Cohen.)
There are other ways to determine what counts as the will of the people. For example, I think single executive positions should be filled by some system where each voter gets to vote for all the candidates they like, not just one. Consider an election where 49 percent of the people think candidate A would be the best choice and candidate C would be terrible, 48 percent think it’s the other way around, and everyone agrees that B would be a pretty decent second choice (except for the 3 percent who think B is best). Why not have a voting method that makes B the winner? This way, we wouldn’t have nearly half the voters thinking that the head of our country’s, state’s, or city’s government is terrible. Isn’t a candidate we all think is good a better reflection of the will of the people than one nearly half of us think is terrible? Or, as in this case, a candidate three fifths of the people voted to remove?
On the other hand, I think legislatures (or at least one house of each legislature) should be elected at large by proportional representation, under rules that make it fairly easy for even a small minority party to get one seat. This way, we can all be heard, and new ideas can have legislative champions. Isn’t a legislature where everyone has a representative who shares their views (and more popular views have more representatives) a better reflection of the will of the people than one where some people aren’t heard because the people who happen to live near them disagree with them?
I’m not very confident in my views on these points, but I think they’re plausible enough that we shouldn’t consider it obvious that a plurality vote defines the will of the people. And I think this story is a perfect illustration. The will of the majority was specifically that Jasiel Correia no longer be mayor, but that was overridden because a minority voted to reelect him. Another voting method might have enabled the majority to get its way. For example, imagine the town had used approval voting. In the actual election, Paul Coogan was a close second; the other candidates, besides Mayor Correia, were Joseph D. Camara, Erica Scott-Pacheco, and Kyle Riley. If a reasonable number of Camara, Scott-Pacheco, and Riley voters also voted for Coogan (and no one who voted to recall Correia also voted to reelect him), Coogan would have finished ahead of Correia. And considering that a majority specifically voted to make Correia no longer mayor, electing anyone but Correia would have been more plausibly called the will of the people.
Of course, Correia’s reelection might also have been prevented by a rule that says you can’t run for reelection at the same time as you’re the subject of a recall election. But suppose (and this is purely hypothetical!) that most of the voters who backed Coogan, Camara, Scott-Pacheco, and Riley preferred Correia to any of the non-incumbents besides the one they voted for. In that case, under approval voting, most voters might have voted for Correia even if they also voted for someone else. And if the overwhelming majority of voters approved of Correia while a majority of voters disapproved of each of the other candidates, wouldn’t it then be clear that the will of the people was actually to keep Correia — at least until someone they liked better than the other available options was found?
I decided to move this to my blog since there were a lot of reader comments. Rather than try to have an interactive discussion in the newsletter, I’m moving them to the Comments section, just below. I have set each comment’s date/time to be when it was sent to me.
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