Ranked Choice … what?

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What is ranked choice voting? Ranked choice voting allows you to rank candidates in a race from most to least favorite. If your favorite candidate receives the least amount of votes in a race, your vote will be transferred to your second favorite candidate.

The way we vote now: Right now, when we go to the ballots, we vote for the one person we want to win.

Say Bob, Larry and Dave are running for president. Bob receives 40 percent of the vote, Dave receives 35 percent of the vote, and Larry receives 25 percent of the vote. Since Bob received the highest percentage of votes, he wins the election and becomes president.

The way we vote under ranked choice voting: When we go to vote under ranked choice voting, we choose who, out of Bob, Larry and Dave, we like the most, who we like the second best, and who we like the least.

If the votes are counted, and Bob has 40 percent of the vote, Dave has 35 percent of the vote, and Larry has 25 percent of the vote, that means nobody has reached a majority (which is at least 50 percent of the vote).

Under ranked choice voting, Larry, who has the lowest number of votes, is removed from the ballot. Anyone who voted for Larry as their first choice now has their vote moved to their second choice.

That means it’s possible that Bob can win 40 percent of the vote in the first round, but still lose the election because more people voted for Dave as their second favorite candidate after Larry was eliminated from contention.

Ranked choice in Maine

While many people believe the process to instituting ranked choice voting as law began after Gov. Paul LePage was elected twice with under 50 percent of the vote, it has been in the works since 2001, after a ranked choice voting bill was introduced to the Maine Legislature.

However, it didn’t gain any traction until 2006, when it had bipartisan support from the Senate, but not from the Legislature.

In Nov. 2016, a citizen initiative for ranked choice voting passed by a 52-48 percent vote, but after a Maine Supreme Court released a non-binding opinion that said three of Maine’s 10 races could conflict with the state Constitution under ranked choice voting, the Maine Legislature passed a law that postponed ranked choice voting until 2022, giving the state time to make a constitution amendment.

In March 2018, 80,000 signatures were gathered as part of a People’s Veto and will be placed on the June 2018 ballot.

If people vote in favor of the veto, the law postponing ranked choice voting would be repealed and it would be used for all of Maine’s statewide and federal ballots, except for state Senate, state House and governor races.

According to a chart by the Chamberlain Project Foundation, nine of the last 11 elections for Governor in Maine have been elected with less than 50 percent of the vote, while five of the last 11 winners had less than 40 percent of the vote.

Former Gov. and current Sen. Angus King, who won his second term as Governor with 58.6 percent of the vote, won his first term with just 35.4 percent of the vote, less than LePage received in his first term in 2014.

Pros and cons

Chris Cayer of the Chamberlain Project Foundation explained the pros and cons of ranked choice voting to a small group of Oxford County residents at an April 29 meeting at the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy.

Cayer said that one of the major benefits of ranked choice voting is that the candidate with the broadest support and the most votes wins.

He said that it also eliminates “vote splitting,” which he described as people voting for “the lesser of two evils” instead of their favorite candidate.

“You’ll never have to vote for ‘the lesser of two evils’ under ranked choice voting when there is another candidate you really like,” he said.

Cayer said that ranked choice voting should also “reduce negative campaigning between candidates.”

“It’s a lot different campaigning when ranked choice voting is in effect,” he said. “In Portland, both mayoral candidates who were running said that before ranked choice voting, if their campaigners saw a sign for another candidate in the lawn of a voter, they would skip that house. With ranked choice voting, candidates are now looking to be the second favorite candidate out of the bunch.”

Some of the cons to ranked choice voting include time and cost, Cayer said.

Cayer said that the Secretary of State for Maine estimated that it will cost at least $89,000 to implement ranked choice voting at the June 2018 ballot, and can increase to $139,000 if police escorts are required to transport the ballot.

He added that if there is no clear majority winner after the votes are counted, it could take anywhere between two days and three weeks to figure out who the true winner is.