USM Free Press
When the status quo has been unacceptable, Maine has taken to pioneering change . Indeed, our motto Dirigo, or “I lead”, and our fiercely, politically independent electorate bolsters that proposition. Through ranked choice voting (RCV), Mainers in November of 2016 can further this ideal by enacting a timely and necessary reform aimed toward strengthening our democracy.
Why do we need reform? For far too long we have tolerated a process that runs counter to a key bedrock of democracy - that government through majority rule serves the common good. In the past 40 years, 9 out of 11 governors (democrats, republicans, and independents) were elected with less than a majority. If we wonder why Maine has become so increasingly partisan, if we wonder as to why we have not shed our title of “poorest state in the northeast”, can we not blame it on a system that allows a governor to be elected, beholden only to a minority of Maine voters? RCV will reinvigorate our democracy through choice and increased participation, and will do so in such a manner so as to ensure that those who are elected are beholden to all - not to some.
Yet despite its appeal, RCV faces welcome opposition.
Citing a North Carolina special election in 2010, some critics claim that RCV ballots impose an undue burden on voters and election officials--causing both confusion and delayed results.
However, the use of RCV in that case was limited to filling judicial vacancies that occurred between primary and general elections--raising reasonable doubts as to whether there was adequate voter education and preparation prior to its implementation. Furthermore, the State Board of Elections made a deliberate choice to “handle recounts and challenges in other races” before addressing RCV ballots, i.e. a deliberate choice to delay results.
Closer to home, some critics cite two isolated statements made in an MPBN article in order to drum up a broader conclusion that Portland’s implementation “proved either too confusing or superfluous” for voters. In doing so, critics neglected to bring under consideration an exit poll conducted by a nonpartisan organization that proves otherwise. In fact, 94% of surveyed voters reported that they fully understood the voting instructions and ballot design, disproving the claim that ranked choice is “too complex” for the average voter.
In other instances, critics raise questions as to whether the reform “rewards mediocrity” or influences a “pandering campaign style”. On the contrary, when both voters and candidates are free from the fear of “spoilers”, as RCV has been proven to do, it fundamentally transforms and opens up our current debate to a wide range of policy concerns and issues by encouraging more candidates and more voters to participate.
Another concern proffered by critics is that ranked choice voting is “easily gamed”. These critics are suspicious that ranked choice voting is a partisan reform that would help elect more progressive candidates. Yet as Professor Emeritus Richard Maiman points out, ranked choice voting does not systematically advantage or disadvantage either of the two major parties. It does, however, return power to the voters who would have more freedom to fully express their range of preference among the candidates.
The current process of plurality voting is suitable for elections with two-way races for public office. But two-way races are rare in Maine. If we want to move forward, we must enact electoral reform to keep pace with the ever-expanding marketplace of ideas and hotly-contested three and four way races for public office.
Once again, Maine has an opportunity to be a pioneer, this time, for better elections. If we reform and fine tune our democratic process to accommodate real debate and accountable candidates, we can move one step closer to achieving the common good of all Mainers.
Marpheen S. Chann-Berry
USM graduate and Maine Law student