October 29, 2023 Letter

I hope you were able to enjoy time outdoors yesterday. In this week’s letter, I will provide updates on Senate commissions studying non-plurality voting systems and labor-management relations in the Providence Public Schools.

1.     Non-plurality voting systems

Democratic Party voters in our neighborhood recently selected Gabe Amo as the party’s nominee to serve in Congress, who won 32% of the vote from a field of 12 candidates.* During the campaign, voters and some candidates stated concerns about Rhode Island’s pure plurality voting system, which can produce a winner who does not necessarily reflect a majority consensus. While the dynamics of the recent campaign may have produced a winner with a broader base of support than his actual vote total, this happy result is far from guaranteed as a general matter.

I became familiar with this issue in my first primary in 2021, when I received 31% of the vote in a 5-person race. The next two candidates, who believed their issue platforms were closely aligned, received 47% between them. For several weeks after that primary, each claimed they could have won had the other person not been on the ballot, and that their election could have better represented the preference of that electorate than did mine. They might have been right, as the voting system in place provided no basis to conclude otherwise.

This issue is not unique to Rhode Island.  Other jurisdictions implement alternative voting systems (such as ranked choice voting and California’s “top two” system) to address it. A Senate study commission will review a draft report on non-plurality voting systems on Monday, October 30 at 2:00 p.m. at the State House. This first draft reviews four alternative voting systems from the perspectives of policy, implementation and legal issues. Commission members will discuss the draft at Monday’s meeting, to correct technical issues with the draft and to present their ideas for recommendations to the Senate. Commission staff will use those comments to prepare a second draft report with revisions and recommendations for the Commission to review for approval at a later meeting.

Our right to vote is fundamental to our democratic form of government, so we must proceed carefully with changes to our system. With that said, our pure plurality voting system has produced results in multi-candidate elections that have raised questions about the consistency of the outcome with the bedrock principle of majority rule.

2.     Labor-management relations in the Providence Public Schools

As described in my October 1 letter, the Senate established a commission to study labor-management relations in the Providence Public Schools, and to submit a report with findings and recommendations. Over the past three weeks, the Commission has heard public comment from various stakeholders. Over the next three weeks, the Commission will invite experts for discussion and dialogue. This Wednesday, November 1 at 5:00 in the State House, the Commission has invited Jo Anderson, Jr. of the Collaborative Leadership Consulting Group to present his view of how teachers in some school districts are moving from an “industrial union” framework to “professional unionism.”

In Mr. Anderson’s view, districts adopting “professional unionism” empower teacher unions to gain authority and responsibility for the content and manner of education in the classroom, and in return accept responsibility to maintain high professional standards among union membership. Mr. Anderson presents a version of these views in a paper that the Commission will discuss at Wednesday’s meeting. The Commission will hold additional business meetings on Tuesday, November 7 and Tuesday, November 14, both at 5:00 p.m. at the State House. The Senate charged the Commission to prepare a report with recommendations for changes in Rhode Island, if any, that can improve the labor management climate, increase professionalism and advance site-based management in the Providence Public Schools.