Op-Ed: Maine Voices: Question 5 would improve political process and grow Maine’s economy

The Portland Press Herald

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Earlier this year, the Maine Economic Growth Council released their annual and dismal “Measures of Growth” report, which found that Maine continues to have a poor climate for attracting and maintaining jobs.

Over the past five years, Maine’s economy has shrunk by 1.2 percent, while the economies of New England and the United States have grown by 6 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, Democrats in Augusta and the LePage administration have been trading insults over who is to blame.

Political stalemate in Augusta is a threat to Maine’s future prosperity. Polarization and gridlock are a direct outcome of winner-take-all elections. When politicians can win primary and general elections with 36 percent, 37 percent or 38 percent of the vote, they become accountable to ideological and partisan bases, and to special interest lobbyists with money to spend to gain undue influence.

We need a system that works – one that values dialogue, not division. One that values consensus, and that doesn’t frame opponents as enemy combatants. We need a system in which candidates with the best ideas to grow Maine’s economy, not those with the biggest bank accounts, have a fighting chance.

If approved by voters this November, Question 5 would give voters more voice and more choice in elections. It would encourage politicians to reach beyond their bases to attract the first- and second-choice rankings needed to build majority coalitions and win elections.

Question 5 would foster greater dialogue and less divisiveness on the campaign trail. Candidates opposed by a majority of voters could never win, and voters would never have to choose between the “lesser of two evils” or feel like their votes were “wasted.”

As a businessman, what is most intriguing to me is how Question 5 can help improve the political process, which is necessary to growing Maine’s economy and creating prosperity for Maine people.

Stalemate in Augusta hurts Maine’s business climate in two specific ways:

 First, business owners and entrepreneurs don’t like uncertainty, and a state with an acrimonious political environment like we have in Maine poses more risks. Capital – leading to jobs – tends to be attracted to states with predictable and functional political environments.

 Second, and perhaps more importantly, political collaboration would make the state’s authorities more effective in addressing the core issues that plague Maine’s economy. Imagine the governor and Legislature working together with education experts to reverse declining math scores among eighth-grade students – engaging in meaningful dialogue, finding common ground and reaching consensus to solve problems that are critical to developing a 21st-century workforce in Maine that attracts employers and jobs.

Ranked-choice voting has been used across the country for years, including in Portland, where voters have found the ballot easy to use. Exit surveys in Maineshowed that more than 40 percent of voters reported less negative campaigning in elections where ranked-choice voting was used, and that more than 80 percent of voters ranked at least two candidates in a three-way race.

Voters in other U.S. cities with ranked-choice voting support its use, and they report higher satisfaction with elections. Not only have voters in U.S. cities with ranked-choice voting reported less negative campaigning, but candidates have reported more civility, too.

Betsy Hodges, mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota, has talked extensively about her experiencing running in a ranked-choice voting election, and how it informed the way she governs as the leader of a major American city. North Carolina’s longtime director of elections, Gary Bartlett, who conducted a statewide election and multiple regional elections using ranked-choice voting, has also spoken out in support of this reform.

No state has been grappling with the challenge of non-majority winners and races defined by the “spoiler effect” and “strategic voting” longer than Maine. In nine of the last 11 elections for Maine’s governor, candidates won with less than half of all votes.

We have a unique opportunity this year to combat extreme politics and negative campaigning. Ranked-choice voting isn’t a panacea, but it’s been tried and tested, and it’s something we can do now to empower voters and encourage politicians to engage with one another differently. Question 5 will help to put us on the path to solving problems once again, so we can grow Maine’s economy, create jobs and improve our quality of life.

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