Voices & Choices

Ranked choice voting history is about to be made

Ranked choice voting history is about to be made

The state known for its lobsters and lighthouse-studded coastlines will soon have a new claim to fame as a leader in election reform. On Nov. 6, Maine will make history by becoming the first state to use ranked choice voting to elect a U.S. Senator and two congressional representatives.

The midterm election will mark the second time Maine residents rank their ballots; the state debuted ranked choice voting in its June primaries, which drew record turnout and overwhelmingly positive feedback from voters and candidates alike.

Supporters predict similar success for the upcoming November election, assured the risks of spoiler scenarios and plurality outcomes have been safely eliminated thanks to the more fair and democratic voting system.

The benefits of ranked choice voting are especially evident in the four-way race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. A recent New York Times poll showed incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Jared Golden, each claiming 41 percent of the vote with the remaining 15 percent undecided.

While the poll did not consider voters’ preferences for the two independent candidates, politicos anticipate the first choices cast for either Tiffany Bond or Will Hoar will end up deciding the race based on the subsequent elimination rounds, a prediction corroborated by previous polling that simulated the first two rounds of results for all four candidates.

In contrast, independent Sen. Angus King appears poised to sweep his re-election bid, safely clearing the majority threshold of first choices according to several polls. Democrat Chellie Pingree’s re-election to the 1st Congressional District is not quite as safe, though the latest Pan-Atlantic poll suggests she, too, will win in the first round.

Protections against vote-splitting and plurality outcomes don’t extend to the state’s high-profile gubernatorial race, which unlike federal offices will not use ranked choice voting due to challenges over an obscure clause in the state constitution.

The close and contentious contest to succeed Gov. Paul LePage recently lost one of two independent contenders. Alan Caron dropped out and endorsed Democratic nominee Janet Mills amid pressure that he and fellow independent Terri Hayes would act as spoilers, siphoning away votes from Mills or Republican Shawn Moody.

The Pan-Atlantic poll, conducted before Caron withdrew, gave Mills a 9-percentage-point lead over Moody, but still with less than a 50 percent majority.

Though Maine election administrators and grassroots activists continue to prioritize public education about the upcoming elections, confusion lingers over the difference between the two voting methods and which applies to which races.

Meanwhile, opponents, including some candidates, continue to denounce ranked choice voting, ignoring the overwhelming support Maine voters showed for the voting system under two different ballot measures.

But criticism pales when compared with the broad support and attention the state continues to attract as it forges a path forward in election reform. No matter who wins, the upcoming RCV elections in Maine will set the example for reformers across the country looking to bring the ranked ballot revolution to their own communities.

Illustration by Mikhaila Markham 

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