Column: "Ranked choice voting good for Maine, good for candidates, good for voters"

Kennebec Journal

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Are you discouraged by the ugly, partisan, dysfunctional political process we’ve suffered lately? Good news. We can fix that. And it’s a pretty simple fix, too.

Ranked-choice voting, initiated by a bipartisan group of people who share your frustration with the current state of politics in Maine, may be headed for the ballot. I sure hope so. I signed on as one of the five petitioners who submitted the ranked-choice voting initiative to the secretary of state for approval. The effort is led by former independent Sen. Dick Woodbury, and lots of volunteers have been circulating our petitions to qualify the initiative for the ballot.

Ranked-choice voting is simple. You cast your votes for candidates in order of preference. You vote for your first choice, and then have the option of also voting for your second and third choices. While we seldom have elections in which there are more than three candidates for a position, if there are, you can indicate your preferences right down through the entire list. Think of it as an instant runoff.

As one supporter recently said, “If I can rank the four different kinds of breakfast cereals in my kitchen, I guess I can rank four candidates on a ballot.”

The most obvious benefit would be that we’d get office holders who have the support of at least half of us. If a candidate won more than half the vote in the first count, he or she would be elected. But if no candidate got more than 50 percent, the count would include our second-place votes. If a candidate got enough first- and second-choice votes to win a majority, that candidate would be elected. And so forth.

A lot of Mainers are not enrolled in a political party and independent candidates have done well here, so we often have, in major races, Republican, Democrat and independent candidates. In the last gubernatorial race, for example, when it became evident that independent candidate Eliot Cutler could not win, his voters were forced to choose between Paul LePage and Mike Michaud. That was both sad and difficult for them. We all should have the chance to vote enthusiastically for the candidate we like, not defensively for the least offensive candidate.

But this isn’t the only benefit of ranked voting. I especially like the fact that it limits negative advertising, which has gotten so bad that we end up not liking any of the candidates. Because a candidate wants — and may need — our second-choice votes, that candidate cannot afford to attack our favorite candidate and, in the process, alienate and anger us. That’s not going to get anyone a second-choice vote. In places across the country that have ranked voting, this has been one very obvious benefit.

The amount of money spent by special interest groups and campaigns on negative advertising is appalling, and if ranked voting did nothing more than end that, it would be worth adopting. And it will, definitely, reduce negative ads.

I also like the fact that ranked voting seems to favor female candidates. I’ve known some great female legislators. They can be partisan, for sure, but I have also found them to be more thoughtful and collaborative.

You don’t have to take my word for this. There is ample evidence that ranked-choice voting is achieving these goals. Here’s a report from Andrew Douglas, published last year by The Center for Voting and Democracy: “Ranked choice voting (RCV) has been associated with a range of civic benefits, but in the context of the polarized politics of the United States its potential to promote civil and inclusive campaigns is especially promising. As the use of ranked-choice voting has increased in the U.S. — including adoptions in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and the Bay Area in California — there is now more data available to test this idea in American elections. Highlights from two recent studies suggest that RCV has been embraced by voters and candidates alike, who see RCV as a means of reducing divisive politics and fostering more positive, inclusive and informative campaigns.”

On Thursday, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Augusta’s City Hall, the leaders of Maine’s ranked-choice voting initiative will present their case and answer questions. This forum has been planned to give people an opportunity to learn more about this important initiative and get involved in the campaign to make it happen.

Set aside your frustration with the current state of politics in our state and help make it better. I can tell you one thing for sure: It won’t get better unless you step up to make it happen.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or Read more of Smith’s writings at

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