Ranked choice voting is used throughout the United States and around the world to help simplify the voting process. In November, 2016 Maine voters will be asked to decide if ranked choice voting should be used for elections involving US Senate and House of Representatives, as well as Maine Governor, Maine House and Maine Senate.
So why should Maine voters consider this type of voting process? Realize that 9 of the last 11 Maine Governor’s races have resulted in the winning candidate getting less than 50% of the popular vote. These campaigns have become increasingly expensive with large amounts of special interest cash being poured into elections while the campaigns become increasingly negative.When there is a runoff election, even more money is spent to determine the winner and the process is often extended into the Thanksgiving holiday.
I believe there are distinct advantages to ranked choice elections:
It would eliminate spoilers and strategic voting. Ranked choice voting allows voters to support their favorite candidate as their first choice without worrying that they might “throw their vote away,” or worse, split their votes with like-minded voters and unintentionally help elect the candidate they like the least.
It reduces negative campaigning. Candidates running in ranked choice elections must ask for second and, sometimes, third choice rankings. Voters are less likely to rank as their second or third choice a candidate who is negative toward their preferred candidate.
It helps to get money out of politics. Campaigns and special interest groups spend a lot of money on negative advertising. By removing the advantage of negative advertising, ranked choice voting reduces the need for, and influence of money in politics.
It gives voters more meaningful choices. Ranked choice voting levels the playing field for all candidates and incentivizes them to take their case directly to voters with a focus on policy concerns.
We have used ranked choice voting here in Maine already. In 2011, voters in Portland elected their mayor with ranked choice voting. Turnout was 50% higher than election officials projected and the winner was elected with 56% of the final round votes. Exit polling found that 41% of voters experienced less negative campaigning, 45% felt more inclined to vote for their preferred candidate and 39% gathered more information about candidates.
I don’t believe that the State of Maine benefits from the growing negativity that has polarized the democratic process, leaving our Legislature unable to effectively govern and I believe it all starts with the elections. We need to remove special interest money from the equation and bring civility back to our elections and ranked choice voting can begin this process. By allowing every voter to select their preferred candidate without fear of “wasting” their vote, we will get a more representative government, elected without being bought, that has a better chance of leading us in a positive direction. Maine has the potential to prosper, but only if we can work together, and it all begins at the polling booth.