A good scientific experiment needs a control variable.
And as Gordon Weil writes in a column for Bangor Daily News, Maine’s November election offers an opportunity for side-by-side comparison between ranked choice voting and the prior, plurality voting method.
Specifically, Weil highlights the races for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and governor, both of which feature independents as well as nominees from the major parties in close, high-profile contests.
But while the congressional race will be a historic first for ranked choice voting at the federal level, the governor’s race will still be decided using plurality voting thanks to unresolved concerns over an obscure clause of the state constitution.
As Weil astutely notes,
“Under the traditional and constitutional plurality voting system, an independent could spoil the election for a gubernatorial candidate who otherwise would have won. That might make a case for ranked-choice voting.”
However, the second part of his conclusion - that a candidate who loses votes to independents but still wins with a plurality would make a case for plurality voting - doesn’t quite follow.
Weil’s concerns concentrate on if the “right” candidate won. But the fairness of a voting method comes down to whether the results reflect the will of the voters - not a particular candidate’s success. The real problem occurs when a candidate wins without majority support; luckily, ranked choice voting can help.
Ranked choice voting ensures that winners receive the broadest possible support of voters. Mainers saw this play out in several of its June primary races, which unlike the general election used ranked choice ballots for both state and federal nominees.
Weil also mischaracterizes how ranked choice voting could affect the outcome of the 2nd Congressional District. He writes that the round-by-round tabulation should illuminate whether either or both independents “blocked” the election of the party nominees.
But voters preferring independents over the major party competitors doesn’t “block” those nominees from winning. What it does is let voters vote their conscience, ranking preferences based on which contenders best reflect their principles and political beliefs.
Whether that results in a victory for an “R,” a “D” or an independent simply reflects the will of the people.
We’re all for thorough comparison with substantial evidence when it comes to improving our elections. But ranked choice voting is passed the testing stage, having already proven in Maine and a dozen cities across the country that it’s the most fair and most fair and democratic fix for our broken election system.
Read Weil’s column here.