Posted Oct. 1, 2015 at 2:56 PM
Updated Oct 1, 2015 at 3:17 PM
Former independent state Sen. Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth, Maine, said he is concerned about a political system in the United States and in Maine that he sees as becoming “more and more disrespectful and controlled by extremes.” As one way to begin to counter that trend, he said, he has joined a growing group of citizens who are working to put “ranked-choice voting” on the ballot in Maine in 2016.
Woodbury is the petitioner on a citizen’s initiative effort that in the past year has garnered 70,000 signatures. He will be at the Secretary of State’s office on Oct. 19 when they are turned in, with the goal of having them verified and a measure put on the statewide ballot a year from this November. If the measure is successful, Maine would be the first state in the country to adopt ranked choice voting across the state and federally elected spectrum.
He and campaign manager Kyle Bailey of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting spoke to the Herald editorial board Thursday.
“When you have multiple candidates in the race, the dynamics of the campaign are very different (than in a two-person race),” he said. “You can win with 35 percent of the vote, which put another way means that two-thirds of the voters voted for someone else. Ranked choice voting is something we can do that has tangible benefits to our political system.”
As devised by the citizen’s initiative, voters will be given a ballot that will allow them to vote for a first choice, second choice, a third choice and so on. If the person with the most votes does not have a majority, the votes of the person who has the fewest cast for him or her will be redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the voter’s second choice. In a three-candidate race, a winner is statistically likely to emerge in this second round. If more than two, the redistribution of the candidate with the fewest votes continues until a winner is selected.
The Secretary of State’s office will conduct second round balloting in Augusta; that task will not be undertaken by municipal clerks. The $500,000 startup costs, mostly for updated software for ballot machines, will be borne by state and not local government.
Ranked choice voting would be used for all U.S. House and Senate, gubernatorial and state House and Senate races. Maine is not unused to seeing multiple candidates on the ballot. In the past 11 governor’s races, for example, nine have been won by less than a majority vote and all but one race has had more than two candidates.
Woodbury said the result of a ranked choice system is to enfranchise voters “who may want to vote for someone but who said I don’t want to waste my vote on someone who doesn’t have a chance. This way they can still vote for the candidate of their choice, and know that their vote isn’t being thrown away.”
The difference will also be found at the campaign level. Candidates run campaigns differently if there are three candidates in a traditional race, he said. “If you have a solid 35 percent support, you don’t have to embrace a wider number of voters. Under ranked choice, they’re going to want some people who liked the loser best, so it limits extremist candidates. There will be more civility and candidates will have to focus on the issues.”
He said he watched that play out in the 2014 campaign, when independent Eliot Cutler, Democrat Mike Michaud and Republican Paul LePage ran.
“The attention was on Cutler. Is he a spoiler? Is he viable? Should he withdraw? Meanwhile, there wasn’t enough discussion of the substantive stuff. What is their vision? What is their educational plan? How would they create jobs? That almost became overshadowed.”
Bailey said the campaign already has 950 volunteers and supporters – 50 percent Democrat and 50 percent Republican and independent. The campaign thus far has raised and spent $170,000 since last fall, on donations of $50 or less, nearly all Mainers.
The committee will be holding community forums over the next year and hopes to speak to civic organizations and other groups. For more information, visit www.rcvmaine.com.