Column: Practical Information About Ranked Choice Voting

The Times Record

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Seems to me ranked choice voting, Question 5 on the ballot in November, needs a fair hearing in The Times Record. Op-eds by Douglas Rooks and Gordon L. Weil in recent weeks present mostly negative generalizations and very little practical understanding of the matter.

Here is my effort, drawn from several sources including The League of Women Voters, Fair- Vote, and The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. I hope to provide some practical, chapter-and-verse understanding that may be helpful.

Ranked choice voting (RCV) gives the voter the power to rank candidates from favorite to least favorite on their ballot. On Election Night all the votes are counted for first choice rankings to determine who voters like the best, just like now. If one candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round, he or she wins, just like now. If no candidate receives a majority in the first round, the candidate with the fewest first choice rankings is eliminated. If your favorite candidate is eliminated, your vote is instantly counted for your second choice. This repeats, in subsequent rounds as necessary, until one candidate — the one who is most broadly supported — reaches a majority and wins.

Voters will probably recall that races with more than two candidates, whether in primaries or in the general election, are very common in Maine. In the present electoral system of winner-take-all and first-past-the-post, this often results in winners elected by fewer than half of the voters. This violates a fundamental principle of American representative democracy: majority rule. None of Maine’s governors have been elected to their first term by a majority of voters in the last 40 years!

The non-partisan League of Women Voters has endorsed RCV as the most cost-effective solution to restore majority rule and to give voters more power. The voter never has to feel like their vote is “wasted.” The voter has the freedom to vote for the candidate they like best without worrying that they will help elect the candidate they like the least. This is very pertinent right now in the presidential election, for example!

RCV greatly reduces the incentive among candidates for negative campaigning. Candidates are encouraged to seek second choice rankings from voters whose favorite candidate is somebody else. A voter is less likely to rank as his or her second choice a candidate who has issued personal attacks against their favorite candidate.

RCV does not favor one party over another. It’s why cities and towns have adopted it in which the majority of the voters are either Republican or Democratic or Independent. It does not help or hurt the electoral chances of any party.

RCV has been used for over 120 years by hundreds of governments and private associations. Ranked ballots are recommended by Roberts Rules of Order. RCV has been used to elect the mayor of Portland since 2011. RCV legislation has been introduced in the Maine Legislature since 2001, with growing support among Republican, Democratic, Green, and Independent lawmakers.

If enacted by Maine voters this coming November, the RCV citizen initiative will give voters the power to rank candidates running for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, Governor, Maine Senate and Maine House beginning in 2018.

What’s not to like? Do cast your fears aside, join the side of sensible government, and vote for RCV!

John Rensenbrink is principal founder of the Maine Green Party and the Green Party of the United States, and is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Government at Bowdoin College. He lives in Topsham.

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