Maine has long been a hotbed for “small-d” democratic reform, with its citizens and politicians recognizing the desire for voters to cast more meaningful ballots in a polarized and broken American political system.
According to a study by the Electoral Integrity Project, which surveyed 716 political scientists, Maine is among the most democratic states in the country, ranking 6th out of all 50 states in its electoral procedures, laws, and safeguards. Maine became the first state to approve ranked choice voting (RCV) for its statewide elections in 2016, with the ballot referendum on RCV garnering the second greatest number of votes for any initiative in the state’s history. Maine’s tradition of reform was well illustrated by Colby College’s adoption of ranked choice voting for all student elections this fall. With its recent electoral reforms, Colby joins a growing list of more than 80 American colleges and universities that have turned to RCV to improve representation in campus elections.
Colby College, home to 2,000 students from 70 countries, previously used a simple first-past-the-post electoral system for most of its student government positions. With crowded fields of candidates, the first-place finisher often had the support of less than one-fifth of voters. For the election of the school’s President and Vice President, runoffs were required when a candidate did not reach a majority, necessitating a second election that typically had significantly lower turnout.
To address these electoral issues, Colby’s student government convened a summer committee to discuss constitutional changes. As Colby’s own Government Department has done substantial work demonstrating the ability of ranked choice voting to enable consensus candidates who better represent the will of voters in the state of Maine, the use of RCV in all future elections was suggested and unanimously passed into Colby’s constitution this fall. “Ranked Choice voting forces candidates to win with a broad base of support and eliminates the need to hold runoff elections which traditionally experience a decrease in voter participation,” said Sam Rosenstein, Vice President of Colby’s Student Government Association, who helped spearhead the change.
The electoral reform was also driven by the desire of student leaders to, in Rosenstein’s words, “prepare the student body to use a Ranked Choice ballot when they go to the polls,” as familiarity with Maine’s voting system can enable students to cast more informed and educated ballots this November and beyond.
Colby began its first use of RCV this fall, electing eight open positions smoothly via an electronic system. The system was well-received by the students at Colby who were excited to join the fight for voter empowerment. "By adopting ranked choice voting at Colby, we’ve become part of a crucial movement towards a stronger democracy,” said Josh Brause, Class of 2023 Co-President. “The impact which RCV can have on American politics should not be underestimated and I’m proud to join the fight for better elections."
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