Voices & Choices

Maine’s 1st ranked choice voting election: clear winners, trouble free

Maine’s 1st ranked choice voting election: clear winners, trouble free

Maine held its first statewide ranked choice voting (RCV) election last week that saw high turnout, general civility among the campaigns and no major problems. Attorney General Janet Mills won the Democratic nomination for governor – a race that featured seven candidates – and beat attorney Adam Cote in the the final round of counting.

In the Republican primary for governor, businessman Shawn Moody won in the first round with 56 percent of the votes, defeating three other challengers.

Mills was the leader in every round, beginning with a five-point advantage on Cote, 33 percent to 28 percent. By the third round, her lead increased to six points, 40-34 percent. In the final round, Mills had 63,384 votes to Cote’s 53,866 giving her an eight point victory, 54-46 percent. Ninety-four percent of ballots were in play until the last voting round.

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Kathy Montejo, the city clerk in Lewiston, told Maine Pubic Radio that voters seemed to understand how an RCV election works.

“They seem to find the ballot design intuitive, which is a good thing,” she said.

Opponents of RCV, notably the state’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage repeatedly predicted chaos and failure, but as the Portland Press Herald reported, that never materialized.

Maine’s Secretary of State Matt Dunlap had a different view.

“We’re very pleased that this went so smoothly,” he said. “I think people can trust the results.”

While it took the state eight days between Election Day on June 12 and the announcement of the results for the Democratic primaries for governor and the 2nd Congressional District (more on that in another post), the duration was consistent with Dunlap’s timeline for processing and verifying all the ballots before the RCV tabulation began.

Elections are never decided on Election Night in Maine. It’s a large, mostly rural state, and elections are not run by the state itself, but by the 500 or so municipalities, which often take a week or more to get official results to Augusta. Dunlap’s office wasn’t expecting to begin the ranked choice voting tabulation until this past Tuesday, June 19.

Maine has a law that prevents electronic transmission of voter data, so each town with optical scan equipment has to send a flash-drive of ballot data to Augusta; some towns send their physical ballots. A few of the flash drives wouldn’t load into the state’s computer Tuesday, so a courier was sent to get the paper ballots, which led to a short delay before RCV results could be reported.

Once all the ballots are processed, the RCV tally is virtually instant.

This November, ranked choice voting will be used for the first time to elect members of the U.S. House and Senate in the general election. Independent Sen. Angus King faces Democratic activist Zak Ringelstein and Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey. In the state’s 1st Congressional District, incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Chelie Pingree faces Republican Mark Holbrook and independent state Rep. Marty Grohman.

The election has brought about a wave of support for ranked choice voting from key publications and columnists. People are hungry for change and a lot of smart folks think RCV is a simple way to fix our broken politics:

New York Times editorial

Washington Post editorial

New York Times column by David Brooks

The Economist editorial

Slate column by Yascha Mounk

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