We are the three most recent state senators representing what is now Senate District 25: the communities just north of Portland. Jerry served as a Republican, Dick as an independent, and Cathy is serving now as a Democrat.
While there are issues on which we differ, we agree totally about the need for ranked-choice voting in Maine elections. That’s why we’ve joined with over 200 current and former elected officials (and counting) from across the political spectrum in supporting the citizen initiative for ranked-choice voting that will be on the ballot in November 2016.
Voting is one of our most sacred American rights. Yet, like so many Maine voters, we have been put off by negative election ads and personal attacks in campaigns.
With increasing numbers of multi-candidate races, the basic principle of majority rule is also compromised. In a six-person party primary, for example, a candidate can win the party nomination with as little as 20 percent of primary voters. In a four-person general election, a candidate can win with as little as 30 percent of the vote.
In many multicandidate races, spoiler effects, strategic voting concerns and negative advertising are as dominant in election dynamics as candidate qualifications and policy platforms. You are affected by these issues, whether you are running for office as a Republican, a Democrat, a Green, a Libertarian or an independent.
Many reform proposals call for a narrowing-down of candidates, and some kind of runoff system that restores majority rule. By far the best and most cost-effective of these reforms is ranked-choice voting.
Ranked-choice voting works just like actual runoff elections, while avoiding the delay, expense and drop in participation of requiring voters to go back to the polls. The key point is this: With ranked-choice voting, your ballot already indicates who you would choose in a runoff election, if a runoff count is needed to establish a majority winner.
How does this work? When you fill out your ballot, you are asked to rank the candidates. You mark Kaitlin Willow as your “first choice”; Bryce Johnson as your “second choice”; and Sophia Miller as your “third choice.” Cast your ballot, and you’ve done your part as a voter – no need to return to the polls another time, even if none of the candidates gets a majority of first-choice rankings.
After the polls close, all of the first-place rankings are counted by a tabulator or by hand, just as they are today. And if someone gets a majority, they win, just like today. But if nobody gets a majority, then the person with the fewest first-place rankings is eliminated and an “instant runoff” happens among the others. Every ballot still counts in the runoff, just as if every voter were returning to the polls for an actual runoff.
The benefits of this reform are enormous.
- First, ranked-choice voting restores majority rule. Elected candidates will be more broadly representative of voters, and can serve with a credibility and mandate that reflects this broader expression of support.
- Second, ranked-choice voting eliminates “spoiler” candidates. If a candidate can’t win, then they are eliminated. They don’t “spoil” the result by splitting votes with a like-minded opponent. It also means that voters can vote for their preferred candidate without worrying that they might help the candidate they like least.
- Third, by avoiding spoiler candidates and strategic voting, ranked-choice voting shifts the messaging of campaigns, the focus of the media and the public evaluation of candidates back toward issues, vision, experience and capabilities, and away from polling and viability.
- Fourth, ranked-choice voting encourages civil and respectful campaigns, as candidates avoid alienating their opponents’ supporters. Rather than appealing to their most loyal supporters alone, a winning candidate needs to appeal more broadly. They need to seek out second-choice rankings from voters whose first choices may be somebody else.
Ranked-choice voting has been endorsed by the League of Women Voters of Maine since 2011, and would apply to both primary and general elections. No, it won’t fix everything that’s wrong with politics these days, but it’s an achievable positive step we can take now to improve politics.
Jerry Davis, a Falmouth Republican, served as a state representative from 1998 to 2006 and as a state senator from 2008 to 2010. Yarmouth independent Dick Woodbury served as a state representative from 2002 to 2008 and as a state senator from 2010 to 2014. Cathy Breen is a Democratic state senator from Falmouth.