One of the biggest stories in American politics this year is Maine’s statewide use of ranked choice voting, where voters selected candidates for governor as well as Congress by ranking them in order of their preference. One of the key groups helping to educate voters and candidates about RCV is the League of Women Voters of Maine. I had a conversation with former Maine legislator John Brautigam, council and senior adviser to LWVME, who talked about how the election went, the reaction of both voters and candidates, and what Maine’s use of RCV could mean for other states. The following is an excerpt, edited slightly for clarity.
Robinson: Maine had quite an historic day at the polls. What was your overall impression of how it went?
Brautigam: Well, we really couldn't be more pleased with how the election went. The state had only a few months to prepare for the vote. But in that period of time, the state developed the procedures and the expertise necessary to implement ranked choice voting. And we at the League of Women Voters and others implemented a plan to educate the public about rank choice voting, how it worked, and to get them comfortable with the transition, and it went very, very well. Are all the reports were that the Election Day was very smooth. There were very few voter errors and folks walked out of the polls feeling energized and frankly, grateful that they'd had this opportunity to rank the candidates instead of simply a one candidate, up or down vote.
Robinson: Did you get a sense from the trainings that you did that the public was excited about this? How about the candidates? Did you feel like they understood how ranked choice voting works and how they were going to campaign under this system?
Brautigam: I think both of those questions evolved over the six months from January to June. I think initially people were hungry for information and curious, and as they got to know really how user-friendly and straightforward it was, the voters began to develop a more positive attitude about it, and we're really looking forward to it, and felt that it empowered them. Likewise the candidates. I think initially they felt that they were comfortable campaigning the way they always had campaigned. But as they begun to talk to voters and realized that this was going to be a more in-depth, more nuanced kind of a campaign, the political discussion was going to be different, given that there was an appeal to voters' second choice and third choice, and so they had to adjust their strategy and their tactics and speak more in-depth with their voters. So we did see that both the public and candidates adapted in a very positive way to ranked choice voting this year.
Robinson: Did you feel that the discussions from the candidates were really issue based? How did that all play out?
Brautigam: I do. I feel that some candidates found alignments with each other on the basis of particular positions on issues, and they talked about that with voters. In other instances candidates, when they found a voter was supporting one of their opponents, they would engage in a conversation with the voter about how their views were aligned with that other candidate, and wouldn't it be great if they could be their second choice. We even saw some candidates campaigning together, and engaging in essentially mutual endorsements for top two choices with another candidate. So that was all very positive, it really brought a positive feel to the campaign. Sure, there were some tough messages and some tough campaigning, some contrasting messages. But overall I thought it was a substantive issue oriented campaign.