Op-Ed: Ranked-choice voting is an antidote to political dysfunction in the State House

Bangor Daily News

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We have a lot to decide this November. In addition to the incredibly important and loud presidential election, we will vote on a record five referenda in Maine. The last of these questions, an election reform, would change the way we vote in the future and perhaps mitigate the number of referenda questions facing voters in future elections.

Ranked-choice voting — Question 5 on the November ballot — would give voters more voice in elections and reward consensus candidates who have the ability to build majority coalitions. If we had this better system in place today, perhaps our leaders would be more likely to work out their differences and resolve issues instead of bicker with one another and kick the can to voters.

When an overwhelming majority of citizens agree on policy goals, which polling reflects is true for at least several of the ballot questions this year, the Legislature and governor should be able to hammer out their differences in compromise legislation.

The best way to address complex problems is to have our elected leaders in Augusta work together to find solutions. These are our leaders who we have entrusted with the larger picture and the details of the state budget.

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Unfortunately, over the last decade, Maine’s political process has become increasingly dysfunctional — including when Democrats were in charge, when Republicans were in charge and when the parties split power, as they do now. Once a place where the parties vigorously debated the issues and compromised to move Maine forward, Augusta has become deeply polarized and mired in gridlock.

When the process isn’t working like it should, voters will exercise their right to petition their government. But when there are this many issues before voters, we have a responsibility to ask ourselves this simple question: Are we doing all we can to improve democracy, not just for us but for our children?

Question 5 is something we can do now to improve Maine’s political process. It doesn’t require electing a particular candidate as president or putting one party or the other in charge in Washington or in Augusta.

Ranked-choice voting puts more power in the hands of voters by giving them the opportunity to rank candidates in order of preference. Rather than appeal to only their base, candidates must reach out and appeal more broadly to pick up voters second or third choices. That means talking with, listening to and being informed by voters who don’t share their party affiliation or worldview. That’s how candidates would build majority coalitions in ranked-choice voting elections, and it’s a step in the right direction to set leaders up for greater success to grapple with the challenges facing our state.

Voters should never have to vote for the lesser of two evils when there is a choice they may like better. Ranked-choice voting gives voters the freedom to vote for the candidate they think is best for the job, without worrying they might act as a “spoiler,” unintentionally throwing the election to their least favorite candidate.

If no candidate receives an outright majority, the candidate who came in last is eliminated, and his or her supporters’ second choices are redistributed to the remaining candidates. The process continues until one candidate gets to more than 50 percent of the vote. So if a voter’s favorite candidate can’t win, his or her vote isn’t wasted because it counts for his or her second choice to help elect a candidate more broadly. That’s exactly how actual runoff elections work without the cost and delay.

We, as voters, have the power to change the way we elect our leaders. And if the mess in Augusta has taught us anything, it’s that change can’t come quickly enough. Ranked-choice voting is a better system, and I strongly urge voters to vote yes on Question 5 this November to adopt this reform for future elections.

Bev Uhlenhake is a Brewer city councilor and is serving a term as the city’s mayor. This column does not reflect the view of city councilors, city staff or the city of Brewer as a whole.

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