The Times Record
Ranked Choice (Instant Runoff) Voting will be on the ballot in November as a “direct initiative petition” that asks us to approve a process to get officials elected by a majority vote (over 50 percent). My Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says that democracy is just that, “government by the people; especially: rule of the majority.”
With a little research I learned that things used to be set up in the Maine Constitution that way. State representatives, senators and the governor were all elected by majority vote. That gradually changed over the span of years from 1847 to 1964 and I wondered why. It seemed to me that a majority vote would assure our Maine state elected officials attained office with most people liking them. But, alas, the hitch in all of this is that the system didn’t work very well when more than two candidates ran and all only achieved a “plurality” (the most votes).
In one case in the late 1870s a race for governor didn’t produce a majority winner and went to the legislature in a complicated process almost causing a Maine civil war. Even Joshua Chamberlain was called in to help the warring factions at the Blaine House. That near calamity was fixed when the constitution was amended to replace majority with plurality wins. It’s all fine now, right? Despite those changes, there’s still that nagging dictionary definition of democracy: “especially: rule of the majority”.
Now with the help of technology the better way is Ranked Choice. Everyone gets one vote but gets to rank their choices. By example, if there are three candidates, the voter can select a first, second and third preference. The candidate with the least support is eliminated. Votes of those whose first choice was eliminated have their second choice selection applied to the two remaining candidates and the one who now gains the majority wins. That is the “instant runoff.” The process works the same if there are many candidates. What’s different now? Just the technology that allows fast counting and number crunching and it wasn’t feasible historically.
Finally, this system has been around all of last century and is used in many places today. Since all candidates want to be among the voters’ prospective choices; there are fewer tendencies toward negative campaigns but, instead, more conversations with voters. There will be less strategic voting based upon perceived electability as well. Complicated? No! Voters don’t get confused on ballots. That was proven in Portland where the system was used in the last two mayoral races without a hitch and the first election even had a field of 15 candidates.
Remember, our democracy should have “especially: rule of the majority” instead of just a plurality. Want to learn more? Get your questions answered at www.rcvmaine.com.