Portland Press Herald
Click here to read the full article:
If approved by Maine voters this November, Question 5 would change to the way we elect Maine’s leaders, giving voters the power to rank candidates.
If, like us, you have grown tired of negative and extreme politics, then ranked choice voting is for you. In our view, it represents the best opportunity to reduce some of the negativity in campaigns and to increase the likelihood of electing candidates who can bring people together to find common ground and get things done. That’s good for Maine.
Neither of us intended to become experts on election reform, but we did in 2009 and 2010 as part of the Portland Charter Commission that evaluated whether Portland should have an elected mayor, and if so, how the mayor should be elected.
For almost six months, we reviewed research, heard testimony, asked tough questions, and engaged in vigorous debate about various voting methods commonly used across the United States. Initially, we were skeptical about ranked choice voting, but by the time our work was completed, most of us agreed that ranked choice voting was the best way to ensure a candidate would be elected with a majority. And it turns out we were right.
Here is what we learned, and what we experienced:
Ranked choice voting is efficient. It works just like actual runoff elections without the cost and delay, and without the decline in voter participation. It is also the only runoff system that allows the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces serving overseas, as well as absentee voters, to fully participate in electing our leaders. Ranked choice voting maximized the number of Portland voters able to participate in electing our city’s mayor on a majority basis with one ballot, and one election. In fact, Portland’s turnout was 40% higher than expected in 2011, its first year in use.
Ranked choice voting eliminates the “spoiler effect.” In today’s elections, when there are multiple candidates, a vote for one candidate can actually help elect a candidate who is opposed by a majority of voters. So, voters often vote “strategically” for the candidate they don’t like as much, the “lesser of two evils,” to reduce the risk that their least favorite candidate gets elected. In Portland’s mayoral elections, that no longer happens. Voters can rank the candidates they like best, secure in knowing that if their favorite candidate can’t win, their vote won’t be wasted – it will always count for the candidate they ranked highest among those still competing.
Ranked choice voting encourages civility. Out of 15 candidates in 2011, Michael Brennan was elected mayor of Portland with 56% of the vote because ranked choice voting worked. That campaign was defined by greater civility, with candidates reaching out to more voters and asking to be their first, second, and even third choices. Candidates knew that running a negative campaign could backfire, costing them a majority coalition and preventing them from winning.
Ranked choice voting is easy to use. In 2015, Ethan Strimling was elected Mayor of Portland on the first ballot with an outright majority. While the race was portrayed by the media as a two-way race, more than 80% of voters chose to rank at least two candidates. That’s because Portland voters like having the opportunity to express their opinions about more than one candidate. And they don’t find it confusing, either. More than 98% of voters reported that they had no trouble with the ballot. The error rate on ballots in 2011, which involved 15 candidates, was also remarkably low.
Now, some opponents of ranked choice voting may attempt to misrepresent the facts about its results in the City of Portland. But the fact is, ranked choice voting worked in Portland. It resulted in a winning candidate elected by a majority of the votes -- even when 15 people were on the ballot, and Portland voters were neither confused nor deterred from voting. To the contrary, participation was higher than ever.
The bottom line is that ranked choice voting is widely accepted to be a better system that captures truer voter preferences. It eliminates vote splitting, removes the effect of spoiler candidates, and gives voters more voice in electing their leaders.
Ranked choice voting is also nonpartisan. Very simply, no political party is helped, or hurt. The only winner is our State to the extent ranked choice voting produces elected officials who more closely reflect the views of Maine voters.
Overall, ranked choice voting has been a good fit for Portland, and for the same reasons, it will be a good fit for Maine.
So, if you yearn for greater civility and a retreat from extremism in our politics, please join us this November in voting Yes on Question 5.
Pamela Plumb and James Cohen are former Mayors of Portland and, respectively, the Chair and Vice Chair of Portland’s Charter Commission in 2009-10.