The Bangor Daily News
Ranked-choice voting is a solution to a very real problem. As a lifelong Republican, a former candidate for the Maine House, an attorney and a member of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, I disagree with Matt Gagnon’s recent column denouncing ranked-choice voting.
Gagnon ignores the history of this type of voting. He states that this reform movement “was born” with the election of Maine’s current governor. In fact, the first bill was introduced in the Maine Legislature in 2001, 10 years before Gov. Paul LePage took office. Republicans in the Legislature worked for its passage during the Baldacci years.
Races with more than two candidates are common in Maine. When we have multiple candidates, a minority of voters can choose our leaders in elections defined by spoiler candidates, vote splitting and increasingly negative campaigns.
With ranked-choice voting, voters get to rank the candidates as their first, second, third, etc., choices. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and voters who ranked that person as their first choice have their votes reallocated to their second choice. The process is repeated until a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the total vote.
While Gagnon claims ranked-choice voting will make elections worse, I heartily disagree. More than 70,000 Mainers added their names to petitions to get this question on the ballot. I think ranked-choice voting will make the election process more reflective of public sentiment and, even better, it will make the governing process more productive. At this time we have a government that can’t get anything done.
Contrary to Gagnon, I firmly believe ranked-choice voting will reduce negative campaigning. It is not a panacea for all our political ills. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Maine spent nearly two years researching various election methods to find ways to empower voters, make campaigns more positive and issue focused, make candidates more accountable and restore majority rule in races with more than two candidates. Ranked-choice voting was their choice for election reform.
While Maine elections are not perfect, Gagnon is far too cynical about the process. I believe most candidates are sincere and want to make Maine a better place to live. I commend all candidates who are willing to take on this tough job. I regret that Gagnon calls these good people “two-faced, sneering candidates,” “fake and lying.”
Yes, there are negative campaigns, often run by someone other than the candidate. Whether the ad is paid for by the candidate, their party or a PAC, it doesn’t matter to voters. Ranked-choice voting will make all of these interests think before they sling mud at their opponent on our TVs, radios and mailboxes.
Continuing the negative campaigning ad nauseam risks losing the election under ranked-choice voting. With ranked-choice voting, the voters can punish the mudslinging candidate by ranking him or her as their last choice or not ranking him or her at all.
The benefits of ranked-choice voting are real. According to a survey conducted by Rutgers University, voters in American cities with ranked-choice voting reported less negative campaigning and show that these voters are more satisfied with the candidate campaigns.
Ranked-choice voting is not “confusing.” The people in Portland already use it. I truly believe that the rest of us who don’t live in Portland can figure it out. By the way, did you know that ranked-choice voting is already used by five states with actual runoff elections to enfranchise overseas military and civilian voters? This is a testament to the success of the process.
And neither does ranked-choice voting make your vote “unequal.” Your voice actually matters more with a ranked-choice ballot. If your first choice can’t win, and no candidate has reached a majority, your vote is instantly counted for your second choice. You’ll never feel like your vote is “wasted,” and you’ll participate in electing a majority winner who is more accountable to Maine people.
As a lawyer, I’ve read the legislation and the legal opinions that find ranked-choice voting constitutional, and I agree with them. Further, even our attorney general agrees that voters must decide this issue.
Picture yourself in the voting booth on Election Day. Think about how tired you are of nasty campaigns and how much you want to elect a leader the majority of voters support. When you get to the question about ranked-choice voting, do something good for yourself and your fellow Mainers. Vote “yes” in support of ranked-choice voting this November, so we can have a better system.
Clare Hudson Payne