This November, Portland will be voting for mayor using Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), also known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). Unlike the current system where we can only choose one candidate, RCV allows voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. If there is no majority winner after the first round of counting, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. Their ballots are then cast for the voters’ second choice candidate. The process continues until one candidate receives a majority.
The process sounds complicated, but I like to think of it in terms of ice cream. If I go up to the window with my heart set on Moose Tracks, but they’re out, am I really going to give up on having a cone? Of course not! I might decide to have black raspberry or plain vanilla instead. In the voting booth, it’s super simple - just rank your candidates in order of preference.
While we are surrounded by choices in all areas of life, Maine’s current electoral system is designed to limit those choices to just one. In a two-party only system, that works well. However, Maine is nothing if not fiercely independent. In addition to the Green Party, the Libertarian Party is attempting to form. Further, we have strong independent candidates who choose not to join any party, preferring instead to trust their own instincts, experience and judgment.
Limiting choice to just two candidates may work well for the two major parties in power (including mine, the Democrats!). However, it severely limits our marketplace of ideas. Democracy works best when more ideas are brought to the table, debated rigorously and then voted on. RCV allows us to do that, without spoiling the election. It’s a clean way to ensure our elected officials have the confidence - and vote - of a majority of their constituents.
Our current system of winnertakes-all allows a minority candidate to win when competing against two similar candidates. We saw this happen in 2010, as well as 2014, and I respectfully suggest that hasn’t worked well for the broader interests of Maine people.
Long before I’d even heard of the former mayor from Waterville, I’ve been working to advance this reform because it just makes sense. Last fall, former State Senator Dick Woodbury (IYarmouth) and I launched a citizen’s initiative to bring the idea before the people of Maine for a vote. The response was breathtaking. People immediately “got it” and stepped up to help. In one week, we covered more than 100 polls and on Election Day collected about 40,000 signatures. This Fall, we will be turning in our signatures and anticipate being on the statewide ballot in November 2016. We have a full campaign staff hosting fundraisers and educational events in the farthest reaches of the state. To volunteer, go to www.RCVMaine.org or email me at email@example.com
At its core, this campaign isn’t about electoral systems, though. It’s about the heartbeat of democracy. If we win, Maine voters will be able to vote for their hopes instead of against their fears. From that philosophy, we can build a predictable, engaged, and responsive government that truly is of, for and by the people of Maine.
Diane Russell, Maine House of Representatives and Munjoy Hill Resident