Op-Ed: Ranked Choice restores majority rule

The Sun Journal

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If approved by Maine voters this November, Question 5 will enact Ranked Choice Voting, giving Maine voters the option to rank their choice of candidates in future state and federal elections.

It is clear to me that Ranked Choice Voting would give voters more choice and more voice in elections. To understand these benefits, let’s look at elections in Maine as they are now.

Elections for governor, senators, and representatives with more than two candidates have been common in Maine since Jim Longley was elected as Maine’s first independent governor in 1974. These elections often result in candidates winning with less than a majority and, too often, with less than 40 percent of the vote. It is even possible for a candidate who is opposed by a majority of voters to win under the current voting system. One or more candidates are often labeled as “spoilers.” Voters become increasingly concerned with the need for “strategic voting” to avoid feeling like their vote is “wasted” and to prevent their least favorite candidate from winning. The issues can take a backseat to questions about polling and viability in these campaigns.

Mainers are proud of their political independence, whether they are part of a party or not. Mainers like having choices. Unfortunately, the current ballot was not designed to handle more than two choices. It no longer reflects how leaders are elected.

Ranked Choice Voting is a cost-effective update to the voting system to accommodate that reality.

Those reasons are enough for me to vote “Yes” on Question 5; but my real passion for speaking out in support of Ranked Choice Voting stems from my work to improve civility in politics.

In my lifetime, and during the past decade in particular, campaigning has become increasingly negative. It is worse today than I could have imagined just a decade ago and I thought it was bad then.

To restore greater civility to Maine politics, people's hearts and minds must be changed, and also change systems that reward divisive tactics and heated rhetoric.

Under the current voting system, the incentives for parties, PACs and politicians is to energize their partisan and ideological bases, turn them out to vote, and beat down their opponents to win with 30, 35 or 37 percent of the vote.

Under a Ranked Choice Voting system, campaigns must reach beyond their base, engage more voters in conversations about the issues and ask for first- and second-choice rankings to build a coalition and win with more than 50 percent of the vote.

Candidates and their supporters know that negative campaigning can backfire, costing them second choice rankings from voters who like another candidate best, and the election.

According to a 2014 study by Rutgers University, voters and candidates in U.S. cities with Ranked Choice Voting report significantly less negative campaigning. It might also help to explain why voters in these cities report greater satisfaction with their elections.

We have the government we choose, and the government we pay for. This November, we have the choice to change the way we elect leaders and improve Maine politics by voting “Yes” on Question 5 to implement cost-effective and efficient election reform.

Terry Hayes, a former Maine state legislator, is the Maine state Treasurer. She lives in Buckfield.

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