Commentary: "Ranked choice voting for better elections"

Sun Journal

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"I will vote for the statewide ranked-choice voting ballot measure this November — even though, without a runoff system, I might have been elected mayor of Lewiston.

I would rather lose a race in a good system, than win in a bad one.

Ranked-choice voting for all of Maine is a simpler version of the system Lewiston already uses for mayoral races. Instead of a November general election, followed by a December runoff between the top two candidates, ranked-choice voting allows voters to express all their opinions about candidates, by ranking them in order of preference on a single ballot.

If no candidate receives an outright majority, election officials can instantly conduct one or more rounds of runoffs, based on the rankings voters gave. It works just like actual runoff elections without the cost and delay. This particular ballot measure would apply to state and federal legislative races and the governor.

It restores the principle of majority rule. It also makes life simpler for voters who do not have to participate in multiple elections for the same race.

Yes, majority support is tougher for candidates. But improving this state must mean holding elected officials to higher standards. Take any issue: we are in danger of becoming a society of low standards, expecting the worst, not the best, from each other.

Leadership means requiring excellence. We have a right to expect the best from each other and from our government.

Maine has a rich tradition of candidates running outside the two-party system. I am a Democrat, but I cherish Maine’s independent streak. Candidates from third parties and no parties at all regularly run for office, keeping everyone on their toes.

Nonpartisan elections for municipal office in Lewiston provide a great example of the kind of debates we can have when voters can make judgments about candidates based on their values, visions, experiences and capabilities — not just their party.

One of my favorite memories from the Lewiston mayoral election last fall was when all five candidates shared the stage at the library in front of a standing-room-only crowd. We debated issues raised by community members all night. While I enjoyed taking on all four of my conservative opponents at once, I was fascinated to see differences even between candidates of the same party. I learned a lot, and I am sure they did as well.

During the course of the evening, in fact, every single one of us found agreement on at least one issue with at least one other candidate. On a few issues, nearly everyone agreed. That kind of debate — made possible by a diverse field of candidates — is the only way to find common ground and create political space for change.

People should run for office because they want to listen to their neighbors, articulate a vision, and relentlessly make their case. We have a runoff system locally because we want to make sure that vision has majority support. It is time our whole state held candidates to that high standard as well. We don’t want people slipping into office just because they had multiple opponents that split votes.

Candidates should be encouraged to reach beyond ideology and partisanship, exchange ideas with people different than themselves in order to earn a majority of their community’s support. That is how democracy should work. If it is important for a mayor, it is even more so for a governor and candidates for the Legislature.

Let’s expect more from our leaders. In November, I encourage the public to vote to make sure state officials must truly be elected by a majority of their constituents."

Ben Chin, political engagement director for the Maine People's Alliance and 2015 candidate for Lewiston mayor

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