Column: Municipal officials support Question 5

The Sun Journal

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A recent article in the Sun Journal quoted some of our municipal colleagues on the issue of ranked-choice voting — Question 5 on the November ballot. None of the more than 100 municipal officials across Maine who have already endorsed ranked-choice voting were quoted. As two municipal elected officials who strongly support Question 5, we would like to correct the record.

It will come as a surprise to thousands of voters in Portland, who have been using ranked-choice voting since 2011, that their voting system is “confusing.”

Exit polling from Portland shows that 94 percent of voters think that ranked-choice ballots are easy to understand. Portlanders have no problem ranking candidates, just as we rank choices every day of our lives.

If Portland voters can figure it out, voters in Sumner and Auburn (and across our state) can, too. Portlanders are not smarter than the rest of us.

It’s not just voters in Portland who report that ranked-choice ballots are easy to use. More than 90 percent of voters in U.S. cities that use ranked-choice voting also report that ranking candidates is easy. Exit polling and voters surveys conducted by dozens of research institutions support this claim.

Election data provided by multiple secretaries of state and municipal clerks across the United States reinforce those findings. The rate of “spoiled ballots” in U.S. cities with ranked choice voting is equivalent to the “spoiled ballot” rate in cities that use Maine’s current voting system. This system is easy for voters.

A 2014 study by Rutgers University compared the experience of voters and candidates in U.S. cities with ranked-choice voting to the experience of voters and candidates in cities without it. This study found that voters in every U.S. city that use ranked-choice voting approved of its use.

Voters in U.S. cities with ranked-choice voting also reported higher satisfaction with elections. That’s because ranked-choice voting restores majority rule and eliminates the “spoiler effect” in elections. Candidates who are opposed by a majority of voters can never win. You never have to vote for the “lesser of two evils” when there is another candidate you really like.

Those who worry about whether Maine is up to the challenge of implementing this reform should remember:

First, we have made significant changes to our elections before with clean elections, same-day voter registration, accessible voting, and other reforms designed to level the playing field.

Second, we are already using different voting systems across the state. Portland uses ranked-choice voting. Lewiston uses actual runoff elections. Most of us use a different voting method to elect our school board members and town councilors than they do to elect our legislators and governor.

Third, Maine’s secretary of state has proposed a process for implementing ranked-choice voting that is modeled on Maine’s current system for handling recounts. Maine’s recount process works. It is secure and reliable, just as the process for counting-ranked choice ballots would be.

We recognize that ranked-choice voting creates more work for the secretary of state’s office to implement a new system and to educate clerks and voters. Any time that changes are made to Maine statute pertaining to elections, it creates more work for state elections administrators. Is that a legitimate reason to oppose improving systems, processes, and procedures? We think not.

Ranked-choice voting imposes no additional financial or administrative burdens on cities and towns. That’s important to us as municipal elected officials. It’s one of the reasons why Maine Municipal Association’s Legislative Policy Committee endorsed ranked-choice voting legislation earlier this year. State Treasurer Terry Hayes has said that ranked-choice voting is “the most cost-effective and efficient way to conduct runoffs, when necessary, to restore majority rule.”

Ranked-choice voting elections have been happening for years across the country. Courts in four states have ruled that it is fully constitutional. It upholds one person, one vote, and it is a plurality voting system, according to 75 years of legal precedent in the U.S..

Seventy-three thousand Maine citizens signed petitions circulated by volunteers to place Question 5 on the ballot. That's because Mainers understand our system is broken, and we'll be better off as a state when voters have more voice and when a majority elect our leaders. We hope others will join us in voting yes on Question 5.

Kelly Stewart is a select board member in Sumner. John Cleveland is a former mayor of Auburn and a former state senator.

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