Column: Vote Yes on 5, Fix the System

The Times Record

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I am a lifelong Mainer, born and raised in the Midcoast, and an Independent. On Election Day this November, I will be joining voters across our state of every political persuasion who are voting "Yes on Question 5.

Not only that, I think it's actually the most important vote we can cast this fall-- bar none.

According to a recent survey of Maine voters, 89 percent believe that "we need to change how our system works," and 72 percent say that "we need substantial political reform."

None of us need a poll to tell us that the system isn't working, and that Mainers are fed up. Regardless of political affiliation I don't know very many friends and family that think the electoral system as it's currently constituted is really a good one. It's clearly gotten appreciably worse over the last couple of decades.

At all levels, we regularly see candidates get elected who essentially run on a platform of promising to never work with the other side. Why is that?

The truth is that the way we currently elect our leaders directly contributes to the polarization and gridlock in Augusta and Washington.

In politics, and public life in general, I've seen that the most activist members of any public debate tend to be those with extreme views and therefore not interested in compromise. People who have a moderate view often stay home or don't get actively involved-- perhaps mistakenly assuming that sooner or later people will come to their senses.

Part of this can be attributed to the general decline in civic engagement and concomitant increase in voter apathy-- admittedly a societal ill beyond the scope of Ranked Choice Voting to solve.

But part of it is the system. Based on the way we vote now, candidates are encouraged to appeal only to a small and enthusiastic base of supporters. They don't have to reach out to voters in the middle, where most of us are. They don't have to talk to us about the issues. Instead, what they need to do is please their base. That's how they get elected.

Reaching out to those of us in the middle can actually cost them an election. That is a broken system: it silences the voices of a lot of us, and it exacerbates our differences. Simply put, it's a system that incentives bad behavior. Dysfunction naturally follows, and we're all stuck with the tab

Ranked Choice Voting as a system might well change the types of candidates that win. But even if the same names and faces end up in Augusta and Washington, they'll have gotten there a very different way. They'll have a mandate, hard-won by needing to appeal to a majority of voters, not a dedicated fringe. That can't help but spill over into policymaking.

It should also spill over into campaign tactics. Every time I turn on the TV I see one candidate accuse the other of being against veterans and working families, and the other fires back accusing the first of being against senior citizens, children, and puppies. It's absolutely infantile. In primaries and elections with more than two choice, candidates would be a lot slower to run negative ads knowing that to win they will likely have to garner some voters from other candidate's bases. In these ways, Ranked Choice Voting incentives good behavior.

This isn't a partisan issue. It will push both Democrats and Republicans toward the middle, every single election. I'm looking forward to continuing to exercise my prerogative to vote for moderates-- whether Republicans Democrats, or others with good ideas-- and I'm thinking that one Ranked Choice Voting is implemented, they won't be as rare as they are today. That's why it's so important-- it reverberates long past this November. And political dysfunction is not unique to Maine- other states are watching, and this could be a fix from which the entire country could benefit.

That same poll that put a number of voter dissatisfaction found that the 69 percent of voters who said that enacting Ranked Choice Voting, Question 5 on this November ballot, would be "important" to "reforming our political system here in Maine." We agree-- across parties, and across our state -- that Ranked Choice Voting would put more power in the hands of voters and give us more voice in the political process.

Mainers are proud of our political independence, and of the statesmen and women of all political persuasions who've had the courage to stand up t their base, find common ground with political opponents, and compromise to get things done.

That tradition is slipping away because the process has broken down.

So we have a choice: We can refuse to act-- we can hunker down, wait, and see, and hope that something clicks in the minds of our political leaders that there's a problem and that they can work together to fix it.

Or, we can act by voting "Yes" on Question 5. Let's get the incentives right!

To learn more about Ranked Choice Voting and how it works, check out the website.

Kevin Bunker


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