Spotlight: Maine

On November 6, 2018 Maine made history by becoming the first state to elect two House members and a US Senator using ranked ballots.

Two years prior, on November 8, 2016, Maine first adopted RCV for the election of state officers. It was used for the first time on June 12, 2018 for primary elections and then on November 6, 2018 for the general election. Ranked choice voting has been used to elect the mayor of its largest city, Portland, since 2011.

Maine has a long history of independent candidates in elections for local, state, and national offices. The state also has a large number of independent voters that have elected governors, U.S. senators, and state legislatures from a variety of parties. Maine has consistently had multi-candidate races for governor.

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November 2018 congressional elections

Maineballots.jpgOn November 6, 2018, Maine made history by voting in the first ranked choice voting elections for federal congressional races. Every voter in Maine had the opportunity to rank their choices in the statewide contest for Senate and for the Representative from their district.

All three elections - Senate, congressional district 1, and congressional district 2 - featured three or more candidates. In the Senate contest, incumbent Independent Senator Angus King won re-election with 54.4 percent of the first round vote. In Maine's 1st congressional district, incumbent Democrat Chellie Pingree won re-election with 58.8 percent of the first round vote. However, Maine's 2nd congressional district was closely contested between incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin and Democratic challenger Jared Golden, with two Independent candidates also participating. On Election Night, Poliquin led with just over 46 percent of first choices, while Golden had just under 46 percent. Because no candidate had the required majority to win outright, Maine began the process of running the ranked choice voting count.

FairVote partnered with the Bangor Daily News to conduct exit polls on Election Day. Those polls suggested that Golden was likely to earn a majority of the back-up support from the two Independent candidates and ultimately win the election. They also showed that over 60 percent of Maine voters wanted to either keep or expand their use of ranked choice voting, and that over 70 percent agreed it was important that candidates win with majority support. 

Shortly after release of the exit poll, Bruce Poliquin filed a lawsuit asking a federal district court to halt the vote counting and declare him the winner. The judge promptly rejected that request, and later rejected Poliquin's claims entirely.

On Thursday, November 15, Maine completed the process of collecting and scanning ballots. At noon, they completed the round-by-round count, broadcast live through Facebook. In accordance with the exit poll, Jared Golden earned a majority of support from the two Independent candidates and became the apparent winner of the election. The count took only two rounds, as both Independent candidates combined had fewer votes than either of the two front-runners, and so they could be simultaneously eliminated. Poliquin attempted to contest the results both through a recount and a court challenge, but abandoned both challenges after neither seemed likely to change the result.


July 2020 Primary Elections

On July 14, 2020, Maine held its second cycle of state and federal primary elections using ranked choice voting. Voters used the ranked ballot in all contests featuring three or more candidates, which was true in nine contests total:

  • The Democratic Senate primary, to choose a challenger to incumbent Senator Susan Collins;
  • The Republican House primary in the second congressional district, to challenge incumbent Representative Jared Golden;
  • The Democratic primaries in state senate districts 11 and 29; and
  • The Democratic primaries in state house districts 38, 41, 47, 49, and 90.

Despite the ongoing complications caused by the COVID-19 crisis, Maine administrators put out election results in a timely and transparent manner. Preliminary first choice results were available on election night; the round-by-round counts announced through Facebook Live a week later, on July 21, 2020; then, on August 3 it was discovered that the wrong results had been announced, and so the new, corrected results were announced that evening. Every step, including the retabulation of corrected results, occurred before the Maine Secretary of State had announced the results in Maine's non-RCV contests.

The Democratic Senate primary was won by a majority in the first round, making the highest profile RCV election the Republican primary in the second congressional district. FairVote had released analysis of a poll of Republican primary voters in the district on July 8 that showed that Dale Crafts would likely lead in the first round and win with a majority after an instant runoff. When first round results were announced on July 14, it quickly became clear that the poll had accurately predicted the first choices of these voters. The full round-by-round results demonstrated that the poll had also accurately gauged second-choice support, with Crafts winning by nearly the exact margin predicted by the poll.

Turnout in the CD-2 Republican primary was up compared to prior comparable elections in the district. Nearly two out of three voters ranked multiple candidates, with 54% ranking all three candidates in the field. As a result, over 92% of votes stayed active throughout the count. As in prior RCV races in Maine, error rates were very low. In the CD-2 primary, only 235 ballots were invalidated due to first round overvotes, meaning 99.5% of votes counted as cast.

In addition to the CD-2 race mentioned above, four other RCV races required multiple rounds to determine a majority winner: the Democratic primaries for state senate district 11 and state house districts 41, 47, and 49. In each case, over 80% of voters used multiple rankings.

June 2018 Primary Elections

Maine_Dem_Gov.PNGOn June 12, 2018, Maine conducted primary elections for Governor, state legislature, U.S. House of Representatives, and U.S. Senate by ranked choice voting.

Both the Democratic and Republican primaries for governor were hotly contested, with seven Democrats and four Republicans seeking the office. Three candidates sought the Democratic nomination for the Second Congressional District. Janet Mills won the Democratic nomination for governor and Jared Golden won the Democratic nomination for the Second Congressional District after the RCV count. The Republican nomination for governor was won by Shawn Moody with 56% in the first round. Full results are below.

At the same election, Maine voters decided on Question 1, which would determine whether Maine would continue to use ranked choice voting in the November general elections and in all future primary elections. More voters participated in the vote on Question 1 than voted in the Democratic and Republican primaries combined. Question 1 passed with over 54% voting in favor.

The Maine League of Women Voters, in partnership with Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, provided voter education resources for the elections at The results of the election demonstrated the success of their efforts, and the benefits of ranked choice voting for a healthy democratic environment:

  • High turnout: more voters participated in the Democratic primary for governor than any prior Democratic primary.
  • Voters reported finding RCV easy to use.
  • Over 93% of voters in the Democratic gubernatorial primary ranked one of the two front-runners, meaning there were very few "exhausted" ballots.
  • The winners in both RCV contests began in the lead and increased their leads each round, demonstrating a strong ability to earn both first-choice and backup support from voters.
  • Media coverage of the election was overwhelmingly positive.

Here are two ways of visualizing the full results for the Democratic gubernatorial primary election:

infogram_0_5c5dbac1-a293-4165-acc5-2eb451d0e412Maine Press Release Democratic Gubernatorial Primary


Here are two ways of visualizing the full results for the Democratic primary election for the Second Congressional District:

infogram_0_596e8189-f70f-4da2-9097-60f9c618e5deMaine Press Release Democratic Dist 2 w/ Fulford


Timeline of Ranked Choice Voting in Maine

Maine law provides that all state and federal primary elections, and federal general elections, are conducted by ranked choice voting.

On November 8, 2016, Maine's Question 5, the Ranked Choice Voting Act, passed with 52% support, earning the second-greatest number of votes in the history of initiatives in Maine. The law stated that all primary and general elections for Maine's governor, state legislature, and federal congressional offices would be conducted by ranked choice voting.

Maine's first use of ranked choice voting under this law took place on June 12, 2018, when ranked choice voting was used in Maine's state and federal primary elections. At the same election, voters voted to continue using ranked choice voting for all future state and federal primary elections and for general elections for federal congressional offices (House and Senate). The first general elections conducted by ranked choice voting in Maine took place on November 6, 2018.

Following the success of Maine's 2018 ranked choice voting elections, legislation expanding the system to presidential primary and general elections passed August 30, 2019. However, opponents circulated a veto referendum petition, which will put the question of RCV for presidential primary and general elections on the 2020 ballot and suspend its implementation pending the outcome of that vote.

The Ranked Choice Voting Act has been subjected to various legislative and judicial actions. This page summarizes this history.

Maine Ballot Initiative

On October 19, 2015, Maine electoral reformers delivered over 70,000 signatures, mostly gathered by volunteers, to the Maine Secretary of State in Augusta. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, a grassroots group of Maine citizens, garnered broad support from across the political spectrum, all with a singular focus: uphold majority rule and give voters a stronger voice in elections. The signatures put the citizens initiative for ranked choice voting on the ballot for the November 2016 general election. 

The initiative was certified as "Question 5" in June, 2016. The question was worded on the ballot as follows:

Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?

On Election Day, November 8, 2016, a majority of Maine voters voted yes on Question 5. It was codified into Maine election law.

Solemn Occasion

After Question 5 passed, some, including the Maine Attorney General, expressed the opinion that parts of it could not be implemented because they contradicted parts of the Maine Constitution. This centered on archaic provisions of the Maine Constitution governing the election of its governor, as well as representatives to the state house and state senate stating that a candidate must be seated if they receive a "plurality" of votes. This concern stems from the colloquial use of "plurality" to mean "the most, but less than a majority" in the context of elections. Because a goal of ranked choice voting is to promote the election of candidates by a majority of votes rather than a mere plurality, some believed ranked choice voting violated these "plurality" provisions.

This concern had been raised during the campaign as well, but several high profile attorneys in Maine publicly stated that this language did not bar the use of ranked choice voting. Rather, "plurality" in the Maine Constitution meant that the candidate must be seated if they win the most votes at the end of the election, without dictating how the votes were to be counted. They pointed out that these provisions had been put in place to replace the old system by which an election simply failed if no candidate received a majority. When an election failed, offices like the governor could be appointed by the state legislature. Similar provisions exist in many state constitutions, generally to replace provisions that allowed for appointment or repeated elections in cases where no candidate receives a majority of votes.

The Maine Constitution has another unusual provision that allows the governor or a branch of the state legislature to essentially ask the Justices of the State Supreme Court for their non-binding opinion on an important matter. The Maine State Constitution says that the Justices should do so "upon solemn occasions," and so the procedure is called a "solemn occasion." On February 2, 2017, the Maine State Senate voted 24-10 to ask the Justices for their opinion on whether the Ranked Choice Voting Act contradicted the "plurality" provisions in the Maine Constitution.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court accepted briefing and heard oral argument on the question. FairVote was among those who submitted a brief arguing that there was no conflict. Others included the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, the Maine League of Women Voters, national scholar Larry Diamond, and the preeminent scholar on the Maine Constitution, Marshall Tinkle. Nonetheless, on March 23, 2017, the Justices issued their advisory opinion concluding that general elections for governor and state legislature could not be conducted by ranked choice voting due to the plurality provisions. 

The opinion was purely advisory, leaving the law in place. Also, because no such plurality provisions exist for either primary elections or for the election of federal congressional offices, the Justices did not find any issue with applying ranked choice voting to those elections.

The Delay and Repeal Law

Because the "solemn occasion" had no direct legal effect, the Maine legislature had the responsibility to either amend the Maine Constitution or to amend the Ranked Choice Voting Act. If they failed to do either, then the state would be obligated to conduct all state elections by ranked choice voting, which would inevitably result in a lawsuit.

However, the state legislature could not agree on the correct path forward. Bills were introduced in June 2017 that took various approaches, but all of them failed. After the legislative session ended, the Maine legislature called a special session in October, and hastily passed "An Act to Implement Ranked-choice Voting in 2021." That bill stated that ranked choice voting would not be implemented in 2018 or in 2020, and then the entirety of the Ranked Choice Voting Act would be automatically repealed unless the Maine Constitution were amended prior to December 1, 2021.

Effectively, this bill was a repeal of the Ranked Choice Voting Act that the people had passed directly less than a year prior, because Maine has a particularly difficult process for amending its state Constitution, requiring supermajority votes in the state legislature.

The People's Veto

Immediately after the delay-and-repeal bill passed, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting began a campaign to save ranked choice voting in Maine. In Maine any law passed by the state legislature can be blocked by a "people's veto." The people must petition to stop the law. If they gather enough signatures in time, the law is suspended and at the next election voters decide whether to block the law permanently.

Mainers successfully gathered more than 80,000 signatures in 88 days, suspending the law. As a result, the 2018 primary elections were conducted by ranked choice voting, and at the same election, Maine voters voted on whether to block the law permanently. Importantly, the people's veto excludes the portions of the delay-and-repeal law regarding general elections for governor and state legislature, meaning that ranked choice voting will not apply to them. Therefore, the people's veto both protected ranked choice voting and avoided all legal issues resulting from the solemn occasion.

On March 29, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap raised a legal question regarding whether the people's veto really did require the June primaries to be conducted by ranked choice voting. On April 3, the Maine Superior Court held that it did. The Maine Senate quickly voted, along party lines, to enter the litigation and argue, based on a variety of theories, that Maine should not implement ranked choice voting. This quickly led to the Maine Supreme Court unanimously rejecting those claims and unambiguously concluding that "ranked choice voting is the law of Maine with regard to the primary elections on June 12, 2018." 

In early May, yet another legal challenge was levied, this time by the Maine Republican Party. It adopted a rule declaring that its party nominations are decided by plurality at its state convention on May 4th, and the very same day filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that Maine respect its new party rule and not apply ranked choice voting to its primaries. On May 29, federal district court Judge Jon Levy, himself a former Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, rejected that claim, holding that Maine has a legitimate interest in applying ranked choice voting to primary elections.

Maine's first use of ranked choice voting therefore took place in its primary elections on June 12, 2018. At the same election, Mainers voted on Measure 1, which decided whether to retain ranked choice voting going forward for all future primary elections as well as general elections for federal congressional offices. Measure 1 passed with more than 54 percent in favor. Consequently, ranked choice voting was used to elect federal congressional offices on November 6, 2018 and will continue to be used in Maine's state and federal primary elections and in its federal general elections going forward.

Baber v. Dunlap

After Election Day, November 6, 2018, it became clear that Maine's Senate race as well as its 1st Congressional District would be decided in the first round, while its 2nd Congressional District would go to multiple rounds. After Election Day, but before the Maine Secretary of State had conducted the round-by-round count for the 2nd Congressional District, the Bangor Daily News released analysis of exit polling that suggested that incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin, who led in first choices, would likely lose to Democratic challenger Jared Golden in the ranked choice voting count. Four days later, Poliquin filed a federal lawsuit arguing that ranked choice voting was unconstitutional and asking the court to stop the Secretary of State from releasing any ranked choice voting count.

On November 15, Federal District Court Judge Lance Walker released his opinion, denying Poliquin's request to stop the vote count from proceeding. The opinion noted that "no constitutional infirmity appears likely," and said he was "not persuaded that the United States Constitution compels this Court to interfere with this most sacred expression of democratic will by enjoining the ballot-counting process and declaring Representative Poliquin the victor."

Later that day, the Secretary of State released the round-by-round count, which confirmed that Bruce Poliquin had lost his seat, with a narrow majority preferring Jared Golden after the elimination of the two independent candidates. Poliquin requested a recount, which began on December 6 and proceeded quickly and smoothly, with no notable change in the result. He abandoned the recount on December 14, before it was completed.

The earlier judicial opinion only involved the threshold question of whether to stop the count. Poliquin maintained the lawsuit, which drew additional briefing from Jared Golden, from independent candidate Tiffany Bond, and from the Campaign Legal Center as amicus curiae. On December 13, Judge Walker announced his final judgment in the case, rejecting each of the legal arguments brought by Poliquin and the other plaintiffs.

On December 18, 2018, Poliquin and the other plaintiffs appealed the order to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, requesting an emergency injunction to stop Golden from being seated. After briefing from all parties, the First Circuit denied the request on December 21, with a brief per curium statement: "Plaintiffs-Appellants' Emergency Motion for Injunction Pending Appeal does not show movant to have a strong likelihood of success on the merits and is denied. So ordered."

On Christmas Eve, Bruce Poliquin announced that he was conceding the election and wished Jared Golden the best. On December 28, Governor Paul LePage signed the certificate of election stating that Jared Golden had won election to Congress in CD-2.

Expansion to Presidential Elections and Veto Referendum

Following the success of Maine's 2018 ranked choice voting elections, legislation expanding the system to presidential primary and general elections passed August 30, 2019, and on September 6, 2019, Governor Janet Mills (who had been nominated in Maine's first ranked choice voting gubernatorial primary) said that she would delay action on the bill, so that it would go into effect for Maine's 2020 presidential general elections, and then be used for presidential primaries beginning in 2024. Maine therefore began preparing to run the first ranked choice voting general election for President.

In an effort to prevent the expansion to the presidential election, the Maine Republican Party began gathering signatures for a veto referendum. If successful, such a referendum would suspend the law, meaning that the presidential election would be conducted by single-choice plurality and not ranked choice voting. It would also ask Maine voters to vote on whether to veto the expansion entirely on November 3. On June 15, the Maine Republican Party turned in approximately 68,000 signatures for the veto referendum. On July 15, the Maine Secretary of State reported that only 61,334 signatures were valid, short of the required 63,037 signatures, but on August 24, 2020 a Maine Superior Court Judge ruled that some of those signatures were improperly invalidated, resulting in the veto referendum having just enough signatures to appear on the 2020 ballot. However, on September 8, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court stayed the lower court decision, effectively moving forward with RCV for president. On that date, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap announced that ballots would be printed with RCV for president and that the veto referendum would not appear on the ballot. 

Additionally, opponents filed another lawsuit in federal district court arguing that ranked choice voting was unconstitutional on grounds similar to those brought in Baber v. Dunlap. The case was assigned to Judge Walker, the same judge who heard Baber. Following an expedited briefing, including an amicus curiae brief from the Princeton Electoral Innovation Lab, Judge Walker released his order rejecting the challenge, and reiterating the legality of ranked choice voting in Maine. Consequently, although Maine's use of ranked choice voting in presidential elections remains in question, the system's future in state primary elections and congressional general elections remains secure.


2020 and Beyond

Maine voters successfully voted with ranked choice voting for president in November 2020. Maine allocated its four electoral votes by congressional district, each of which was determined using RCV. One electoral vote went to Joe Biden for winning the RCV race in the first congressional district, one vote to Donald Trump for winning the RCV race in the second congressional district, and two additional votes to Biden for winning the statewide RCV tabulation.

With no pending legal challenges after the 2020 general election, Maine is expected to use RCV for presidential primary and general elections, as well as other eligible federal and state elections.



Ranked Choice Voting in Portland, Maine

When Portland passed a charter amendment to switch from an appointed to an elected mayor in 2010, it also decided to elect that mayor with RCV, rather than an expensive and unnecessary primary/runoff system. In 2020, voters opted to expand use of ranked choice voting to the offices of city council and school board, with 80% of voters supporting the change.


In 2011, incumbent Mayor Mike Brennan -- himself a supporter of RCV -- won handily in 2011. However, voters replaced him with challenger Ethan Strimling in 2015 in a three-way race. 

While Strimling won a majority of votes in the first round, the Green Party affiliated candidate was able to run a serious campaign without any fingers pointing to him as a “spoiler.”

Portland voters overwhelmingly support the continued use of RCV. In 2011, FairVote staff observed the election and conducted an informal exit survey conducted by FairVote at one of the city’s highest turnout precincts revealed that more than nine in ten voters describe ranking candidates as “easy,” 84% of voters ranked at least two candidates, and 91% of voters with an opinion said they support keeping RCV in Portland. On Election Day, 2016, Portland voters overwhelmingly voted to expand the system statewide, with 71.5% of Portland voters voting yes on Question 5. Four years later, 80% of Portland voters voted to expand municipal use of RCV.

FairVote staff members Drew Spencer Penrose and Elizabeth Hudler spoke with Mayor Mike Brennan in the summer of 2013. He described how the use of ranked choice voting made his and the other candidates' campaigns more positive and inclusive, while giving every voter a stake in the outcome.

Press Coverage

Ranked choice voting passes major court test. Portland Press Herald, Nov. 16, 2018.

Democrat prevails in Maine congressional race that used ranked choice voting system. The Washington Post, Nov. 15, 2018.

As Maine goes: political scholars say Golden/Poliquin ranked choice voting race will serve as a model for election reform The Portland Phoenix, Nov. 15, 2018.

Nation's eyes on Maine as ranked vote tally starts in 2nd District race. Portland Press Herald, Nov. 9, 2018.

Maine tried a better way to vote - and it's getting put to the test. Slate, Nov. 7, 2018.

Can ranked choice voting end ugly election battles? This November, Maine hopes to find out. The Washington Post, Nov. 1, 2018.

A new kind of voting faces Election Day test in Maine. Associated Press, Oct. 24, 2018.

Could Maine's new ranked-choice voting change American elections? Boston Globe Magazine, Oct. 17, 2018.

The outcome of the November election may decide the future of ranked choice voting. The Bangor Daily News, Oct. 3, 2018.

Ranked choice voting: As Maine goes... The American Interest, Aug. 7, 2018

Sen. Angus King on Maine's ranked choice voting election Meet The Press Daily, July 2, 2018

Historic ranked choice voting worked as promised Portland Press Herald, June 24, 2018

Maine voters tell lawmakers they want to keep ranking their candidates Reason, June 22, 2018

Interest in ranked choice voting surges Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 22, 2018

Ranked choice voting fans hope Maine's experiment pays off Associated Press, June 21, 2018

A better electoral system in Maine New York Times, June 20, 2018

Maine voters overrule their leaders The Atlantic, June 15, 2018

Ranked choice test makes electoral history in Maine Portland Press Herald, June 14, 2018

A new choice: Maine's experiment in ranked choice voting is a rare cause for optimism about our democracy Slate, June 14, 2018

Election reformers cheer as Maine again approved ranked choice voting Talking Points Memo, June 13, 2018

Most Americans want fundamental changes to US democracy; see Maine and California CNN, June 13, 2018

Maine voters blew up their voting system and started fresh from scratch Vox, June 12, 2018

In Maine, casting ballots with, and on, ranked choice voting ABC News, June 12, 2018

As Australia and the Oscars go, So Goes Maine? New York Times, June 11, 2018

Maine set for groundbreaking voting experiment on Tuesday CNN, June 11, 2018

Maine courts were right to clear way for using ranked choice voting in June Bangor Daily News, June 5, 2018

Voters will rate candidates in Maine's June primary PBS NewsHour, May 26, 2018

Maine tries 'ranked-choice' voting NBC News, May 24, 2018

Maine’s top court clears way for ranked-choice voting in June Bangor Daily News, May 14, 2018

What the first statewide poll tells us about Maine's primary elections Bangor Daily News, May 7, 2018

Here's a look at Maine's first ranked-choice voting state ballots Bangor Daily News, April 25, 2018

Maine's top court asked to make deciding call on ranked-choice voting Bangor Daily News, April 11, 2018

Maine supporters of ranked choice voting take their case to court Portland Press Herald, Feb. 16, 2018

The second most important election of 2018 is this June in Maine Vox, Feb. 12, 2018

Maine ranked-choice supporters say they have enough signatures to force a new vote Bangor Daily News, Feb. 1, 2018

Ranked-choice voting supporters to begin ‘people’s veto’ campaign today Portland Press Herald, Nov. 6, 2017

Maine’s legislature is blocking ranked-choice voting. But voters have one chance to save it. The Intercept, Nov. 3, 2017

Legislature delays and potentially repeals ranked-choice voting Portland Press Herald, Oct. 23, 2017

Editorial: Hope for the future with ranked-choice voting Portland Press Herald, Nov. 14, 2016

Maine electoral reformers delivers 70,000 signatures WMTW-TV, Oct. 19, 2015

Petition calls for Maine to be first state to vote by ranked choice Portland Press Herald, Oct. 19, 2015

Maine group launching campaign for ranked-choice voting Bangor Daily News, Oct. 12, 2015

Editorial: Ranked Choice Voting a Winner Portland Press Herald, Nov. 12, 2011


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