Advocates for ranked choice voting (RCV) scored a huge victory in Maine yesterday, as Question 1 – the referendum to protect RCV for statewide voting – appears to have been approved by voters. At this writing, with nearly 80 percent precincts reporting, the Yes votes are in the lead, 54% - 46%.
We think a big reason for the win on Question 1 was the fact that all partisan primary voters had a chance to vote with RCV races for governor before voting on the referendum question itself. People like having more choice at the ballot box, and time and again we see that voters find RCV easy.
Turnout in Maine was higher than expected, just as we saw last week in San Francisco, last March in Santa Fe, and in the previous four RCV elections held in the last year.
It was a long, grueling fight to bring RVC to the state. The Ranked Choice Voting Act has been under near constant assault, with legal and legislative threats from the very beginning, all the way until Election Day itself, when Maine Governor Paul LePage made the blustery proclamation that he would “probably” refuse to certify the election results (a legally meaningless claim).
But the will of the people won out in the end: on June 12, 2018, Maine held its first statewide RCV election. Simultaneously, voters voted to keep RCV in future elections as well, rejecting their state legislatures attempt to undermine the law with a “People’s Veto.”
Statewide, four primary contests had more than three candidates and therefore made use of the new system. On the Democratic side, seven candidates ran for governor and four candidates ran in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. On the Republican side, four candidates ran for governor and three candidates ran in Maine’s State House District 75. Every Republican and Democratic voter in Maine voted with a ranked ballot.
In advance of the election, it was clear that RCV was already having an impact. Democratic gubernatorial candidates Betsy Sweet and Mark Eves ran a joint campaign ad telling voters that each would be ranking the other second. Eves noted that without RCV, consultants would encourage the opposite: to attack the front-runners.
The League of Women Voters of Maine, in partnership with Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, provided excellent voter education resources at mainerankedchoice.vote and through a variety of other channels, including a public service announcement encouraging voters to rank every candidate.
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap did a commendable job administering the election, providing sample ballots, an FAQ, and his own educational video on the Secretary of State’s website. The Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center communicated with Dunlap to ensure Maine would follow best practices, all contributing to a successful election day experience for administrators and voters alike.
On Election Day, there were few reports of administrative or voter difficulty with the new system. Voters had a well-designed ballot with clear instructions. RCV was credited with increasing turnout, and allies in Maine reported that voters’ positive experiences ranking their choices influenced how they voted on Question 1, which asked if Maine should continue using RCV in the future.
As of the morning of June 13, nearly 50,000 more voters weighed in on Question 1 than voted in the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries combined. This turnout likely speaks to how motivated independent and third party voters were to weigh in on RCV, which allows candidates outside the two major parties to compete on a more level playing field with the Democrats and Republicans.
Because Maine state law does not allow ballot data to be relayed electronically, ballot data will need to be collected from across the large, mostly rural state, over the course of the week before the round-by-round vote counting will occur. Both of the Republican contests with more than three candidates appear to be won by solid majorities of first-round votes, so those can be called today. Both of the Democratic contests will likely require additional rounds of counting.
When those results become available, we will report on the results as well and whatever we can learn about how voters used their rankings.
Maine’s next RCV election is November 6. On that day, voters will rank their choices in the general elections for U.S. Senate and U.S. House (in both of Maine’s two congressional districts). All three contests already have more than two candidates declared, so every voter in Maine will have the opportunity to rank their choices.
Then, for the first time, there will be three members of Congress elected in a general election with RCV - and another day for the history books.