Spotlight: Maine

November 8, 2016, Maine became the first state to adopt ranked choice voting for the election of state officers. It first used ranked choice voting in its June 12, 2018 primary elections, and will use it in general elections for federal congressional offices in November, 2018. Ranked choice voting has been used to elect the mayor of its largest city, Portland, since 2011.

Maine has a long history of independent thinkers in 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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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

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 Ranked Choice Voting Act has been subjected to various legislative and judicial actions. This page summarizes the events that led up to Maine's first use of ranked choice voting for statewide elections.

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 will continue to be used in Maine's state and federal primary elections and in its federal general elections going forward.

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. Although incumbent Mayor Mike Brennan -- himself a supporter of RCV -- won handily in 2011, 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. 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.

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.

Voter Education

Maine Uses Ranked Choice Voting, joint project of the League of Women Voters of Maine and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections

Elections & Voting 2018, League of Women Voters of Maine

Resources for Ranked-choice Voting, Maine Department of Secretary of State

You can also find more information on RCV in Portland from local government and organizations:

Committee for Ranked Choice Voting

Portland City Clerk


Election Analysis

Maine statewide June 2018 primary election analysis

FairVote will provide analysis following Maine's June 2018 ranked choice voting primary elections here.

Portland, 2011 mayoral election analysis

In Portland in 2011, there were only 32 invalid ballots out of 20,212 ballots cast, or 0.16%. Also, the winner of the election, Michael Brennan, earned most first choices and was also the most successful at reaching out to supporters of other candidates and gaining 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choice votes.

FairVote Round by Round Analysis

More election observations from election observer Dorothy Scheeline.

Exit Survey of Early Voters

Press Coverage

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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