Column: Ranked-choice voting would improve politics in Maine

The Sun Journal

Click here to read the full article:

The vitriol that people are seeing and hearing during this campaign season shows that things have been getting progressively worse each year. Question 5 on the ballot this November proposes a better system for electing politicians in Maine: Ranked-choice voting.

It used to be that conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans helped to balance out the extremes of their parties and kept them in check. To win elections, Democrats needed Republican votes and vice versa. Things got done in this state and in this country because moderates were at the negotiating table hammering out agreements. That was when the two-party system was working.

During the past decade, special interests with unlimited cash and limited viewpoints have spent billions of dollars to buy elections and build political power. They have galvanized small bases of enthusiastic supporters to vote in low-turnout primary elections in order to replace politicians who don’t share their viewpoints.

When they haven’t been able to replace moderates fairly and squarely, special interests have simply rewritten the rules on campaign finance and redistricting. And in elections with more than two candidates, they have benefited from “spoiler candidates” to split the opposing vote share, thus allowing their preferred candidate to win with less than 40 percent of the vote.

Solving that last problem — the dilemma of “spoiler candidates” and the absence of majority rule in elections — is the driving force behind the proposal to enact ranked-choice voting — Question 5 on the November ballot.

Ranked-choice voting eliminates the “spoiler effect” in campaigns and restores majority rule. Rather than voting “strategically” to stop the candidate they don’t like, voters are free to vote for their favorite candidate. Candidates are elected more broadly, so they have to listen to more voters. Voters have more power; special interests have less.

Ranked-choice voting in Maine can have other positive ripple effects, including helping to tone down some of the heated rhetoric on the campaign trail. That is because special interest-backed candidates who are divisive and who alienate voters will have a difficult time attracting first- and second-choice rankings needed to build majority coalitions in ranked-choice voting elections.

Ranked-choice voting would be used in general elections and in primary elections.

Imagine the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate or the Republican nominee for governor being chosen by a majority of voters in their party primaries. In most races, those nominees could only get to a majority by appealing to conservatives, liberals and moderates within their party, rather than appealing to a narrow base within their own party and winning with less than 40 percent of the vote.

Voting “yes” on Question 5 to enact ranked-choice voting would improve politics in Maine for the future. It changes the way politicians engage with voters and with one another on the campaign trail, and it rewards leaders who approach the political process with a more collaborative spirit.

Opponents of ranked-choice voting are mostly from the political extremes and they are trying to confuse and mislead voters in an attempt to convince them to keep the status quo. They claim that it will be costly, confusing for voters, and that it raises constitutional questions.

Here are some facts:

First, according to State Treasurer Terry Hayes, “Question 5 proposes the most cost-effective and efficient process to conduct run-offs, when necessary, to restore majority rule in Maine elections.”

Second, Maine Professor Sandy Maisel, a national expert on elections, has pointed to political science research showing that ranked-choice ballots are easy to use, and that ranked-choice voting “works to have some of the beneficial consequences its proponents seek — increased turnout, majority winners, less incivility, the elimination of “spoiler” candidates.”

Third, courts in four states have already ruled that ranked-choice voting is constitutional. Opponents of ranked-choice voting are on record saying that, regardless of whether or not they thought it was constitutional, they would oppose it. That is a red herring intended to mislead voters.

Question 5 is welcome news for Maine people and businesses that count on state government to offer predictability and to fulfill its obligations. We encourage others to join us in voting “yes” on Question 5 on Election Day.

Charles Morrison served as Commissioner of Labor in the McKernan Administration and is the former president and CEO of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. Lucien Gosselin is a former director of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and a former Lewiston city administrator.

Donate Volunteer