Editorial: "Ranked choice voting would bring more civilty, no spoilers"

Lewiston Sun Journal

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I and many of my friends are deeply disturbed by trends we see happening in our elections, including: negative campaigning (fear-mongering); excessive influence by large, often out-of-state, campaign contributors who pay for negative ads; and polarization of the two major parties.

Polarization discourages independents and moderates from running for office for fear of being labelled “spoilers” and being prevented from directing viable issues-based campaigns.

Ranked choice voting is a process designed to help alleviate these problems. Ranked choice voting is also often called instant run-off voting.

Run-off elections might be required if a locality has a rule or a law that says a candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote to win. Failure of any candidate to get a majority of votes can happen when there are three or more candidates running. And it is common — nine out of the past 11 Maine gubernatorial elections have produced a “minority winner.”

If required, a run-off election takes place days or weeks later. It generates extra expense and inconvenience for the locality, the candidates, and the voters.

Ranked choice voting fixes this problem by creating an instant run-off. The voters mark their ballots to designate the order in which they favor candidates.

Voters basically say, “If John Doe, my first choice, cannot win, then I want my vote to go to my second choice, Jane Smith.”

The process does not favor one party. On the contrary, it tends to bring candidates toward middle ground by giving voters alternatives to major party candidates who are beholden to their party’s platform. Moderate candidates, who represent the best ideas from both sides, can actually win without the support of a major party or a huge donor.

A 50 percent rule is rare in this country, although a 50 percent requirement is quite logical. Without it, a governing official might have the support of less than half the people he/she is governing. Most localities avoid a 50 percent rule, partly because of the expense and hassle of holding run-off elections. Now, with modern technology, a hassle-free, instant run-off option is readily available — ranked choice voting.

A few municipal (but not national) elections in the U.S. have used ranked choice voting and some of them have been measured for voter and candidate satisfaction. Most voters and most candidates felt that the elections were more civil when RCV was in effect. Having experienced it, most voters and candidates liked it and were not confused by the ballot or the process.

It is as simple as saying “I like cake better than pie and I like pie better than ice cream.”

A group of Maine citizens (myself included) has collected approximately 60,000 petition signatures to put the question of ranked choice voting to referendum in November 2016. If the referendum wins, the state of Maine will use ranked choice voting to elect its U.S. senators and representatives and its governor beginning in 2018.

Maine would be the first state to do so. We could lead the nation in restoring civility and reasonableness to our government and in limiting the influence of big money.

The voting public should all understand ranked choice voting and give it serious thought long before they enter the voting booths in 2016.

Ranked choice voting could start the healing process our democracy needs. 

Ben Lounsbury is an unpaid volunteer for the Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting. He lives in Auburn.

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