Op-Ed: Maine Voices: Ranked-choice voting should be everyone’s choice to better democracy

Portland Press Herald

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A former GOP legislator explains why she changed her mind: The process works just like runoff elections, without requiring voters to return to the polls, she says.

TOPSHAM — I represented Topsham in the Maine Legislature as a Republican from 2006 to 2012. I worked hard to earn a reputation as a lawmaker who was thoughtful and informed.

When I first heard about ranked-choice voting, I was skeptical: At first glance, it appeared to be an initiative that would give Democrats and unenrolled candidates a permanent advantage. Despite my initial doubts, I agreed to meet and talk with a friend and colleague about ranked-choice voting to learn more about this issue.

I am glad that I did, and that I gave this issue the same thoughtful consideration that I had given to bills in the Legislature. What I found was that ranked-choice voting is a nonpartisan initiative with deep roots in Maine that has been proven to put more power in the hands of voters, to help forge consensus and to restore greater civility to politics.

I will be voting “yes” in support of the citizen initiative for ranked-choice voting this November.

If my support of ranked-choice voting surprises you, given my initial reaction to it, I don’t blame you. A year ago, I would have been surprised, too. In our highly polarized political environment, it would have been easy to dismiss this proposal based on my initial assumptions.

Constitutional scholars from the University of Maine Law School have looked at this citizen initiative and determined that it is simply a different method of counting ballots that captures truer voter preferences to ensure that, as former state Sen. Peter Mills put it, “voters get what they want.”

Ranked-choice voting is simple for voters. You have the opportunity to rank as few or as many candidates as you like in order of your individual preference.

If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice rankings, then the candidate with fewest first-choice rankings is eliminated, and voters who liked that candidate the best have their vote instantly counted for their second choice. This process repeats until the field of candidates is narrowed and the candidate with the broadest support wins.

This process works just like actual runoff elections, without requiring voters to return to the polls to vote in another expensive, drawn-out election. Your vote counts for the candidate you ranked second only if your first choice has been eliminated.

What got me excited, though, wasn’t the simplicity of the ballot, or how inexpensive this process would be, but the opportunity to improve the political climate in Augusta.

Decades of rancor and scorched-earth politics have created an environment where it is difficult to get anything accomplished. Ranked-choice voting encourages candidates to reach beyond their bases to earn first-, second- and, in crowded races, third-choice rankings.

Negative campaigning can backfire when voters have the power to express their opinions about more than one candidate. Candidates who continue to bash their opponents in hopes of victory through mudslinging will find it difficult to earn second- and third-choice rankings.

Perhaps most importantly, candidates who can successfully build broader coalitions necessary to win ranked-choice voting elections are more likely to be leaders who can build governing coalitions to better pass common sense legislation for the people of Maine.

It’s far past time for Augusta to get back to doing the people’s business. Elections should have consequences, and the winners of elections should have the backing of broader coalitions of voters so that they can enact the people’s will.

I invite Maine citizens to join the nonpartisan coalition of current and former elected officials, and business, labor, faith and civic leaders backing ranked-choice voting, including Republicans like myself, state Sen. Roger Katz and former state Sen. Peter Mills; independents like former state Sen. Dick Woodbury and state Treasurer Terry Hayes; and Democrats like former House Speakers John Richardson, Hannah Pingree and Mike Saxl.

This is something we can do now to improve the political process. Let’s make a change for the better this November and support ranked-choice voting.

— Special to the Press Herald

Kerri Prescott Bickford

Topsham

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