To ensure majority winners in races with three or more candidates, ranked choice voting lets voters rank candidates based on their individual preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first choice rankings in the initial round of tabulation, the candidate with the least number of votes has lost. He or she is eliminated. Ballots for this candidate are reassigned to the remaining candidates based on second choice rankings. All the ballots are tallied again. In a three-person race, we now have a winner with a majority of votes cast in the final round of tabulation. Ranked choice voting, sometimes called "instant runoff voting," acts just like a runoff without the delay, expense and drop in participation of requiring voters to go back to the polls. Ranked choice voting is as easy as 1-2-3 for voters.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the benefits of ranked choice voting?
In addition to ensuring candidates win with broad majority support, ranked choice voting:
- Eliminates spoilers and strategic voting. Ranked choice voting eliminates the “spoiler effect” by allowing voters to support their favorite candidate as their first choice without worrying that they might “throw their vote away,” or worse, split their votes with like-minded supporters and help elect the candidate they like the least.
- Gives voters more choice. By eliminating fears of spoilers and split votes, ranked choice voting levels the playing field for candidates and empowers voters with more meaningful choices. It allows election conversations to focus on substance, rather than on polling and electability.
- Reduces negative campaigning. Using ranked choice voting candidates compete not just for first choice votes, but second, and sometimes, third choice votes. As a result, candidates benefit from maintaining good relations with opponents and taking their case directly to voters, focusing on policy concerns instead of personal attacks and negative campaigning.
In what elections would ranked choice voting be used? Ranked choice voting would be used in elections for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, Governor and Maine Senate and House. Ranked choice voting would only be used in races with three or more candidates.
Is ranked choice voting a new idea? No. Ranked choice voting was devised in 1871 and first used in a Australia 1893 election. In Maine, ranked choice voting legislation was first introduced in 2001. Ranked choice voting bills have been introduced in subsequent sessions of the Maine Legislature with growing support from Republican, Democratic and Independent lawmakers.
How did this initiative come about? In 2008, members of the League of Women Voters of Maine began studying possible solutions to the problems of our current system of plurality voting. Among the possible solutions was ranked choice voting. In 2013, the League convened a working group of civic leaders, legal scholars and reform advocates to develop a proposal that would fix this problem. The result is the current proposal to adopt ranked choice voting for Maine’s federal and state elections.
Where is ranked choice voting used? Governments around the world use ranked choice voting in federal elections, including Australia and Ireland. Cities and counties across the United States use ranked choice voting too. In 2011, voters in Portland, Maine elected their mayor with ranked choice voting. Turnout was 50% higher than election officials projected, 99.8% of the ballots cast were valid and the winner was elected with 56% of the final round votes. Exit polling found that 41% of voters experienced less negative campaigning, 45% felt more inclined to vote for their preferred candidate and 39% gathered more information about candidates.
Does ranked choice voting uphold one person, one vote? Yes. Every voter has one vote with ranked choice voting. If your preferred candidate finishes in first or second place, your vote keeps counting in each round of tabulation until one of the candidates gets to 50% + 1. If your preferred candidate doesn’t finish in first or second place, he or she has lost and is eliminated, and your second choice counts in subsequent rounds of tabulation. If your second choice also loses and is eliminated, your third choice counts, until one candidate reaches 50% + 1 of the votes cast.
Does ranked choice voting require a change to the Maine State Constitution? No. Ranked choice voting is consistent with the plurality and vote tabulation provisions of our state’s Constitution.
Would ranked choice voting require the use of electronic voting machines? No. This initiative does not require or assume that Maine will transition to electronic voting machines.
Is ranked choice voting confusing for seniors and low-income voters? No. For voters, ranked choice voting is as easy as 1-2-3. In the most recent municipal election in Minneapolis, 85% of voters found the ranked ballot simple to use, including 81% of senior voters and 83% of lower income voters. As with any change, voters simply need to be informed about how to rank their ballots.
Does ranked choice voting favor one party over another? No. In the last 40 years, elected candidates in only two gubernatorial elections secured a majority of the votes cast with plurality voting. Governors elected with less than 50% of the vote include: James Longley (I) with 39.7% in 1974, Joseph Brennan (D) with 47.7% in 1978, John McKernan (R) with 39.9% in 1986 and 46.7% in 1990, Angus King (I) with 35.4% in 1994, John Baldacci (D) with 47.2% in 2002 and 38.1% in 2006, and Paul LePage (R) with 37.6% in 2010 and 48.2% in 2014.
Who supports ranked choice voting? In November 2014, the Portland Press Herald and the Brunswick Times Record endorsed ranked choice voting. Republican, Democratic, Green and Libertarian parties across the country have endorsed ranked choice voting. President Barak Obama and Senator John McCain are among the many prominent political leaders who support this reform.
Why is ranked choice voting preferable to runoff or top-two elections? Runoff elections result in a majority winner, but voters still cast their ballots strategically in the general election to avoid vote splitting that might impact who advances to the runoff. Runoff elections extend the campaign season into the Thanksgiving Holiday or early December. Millions of dollars are spent by special interests on negative advertising. In states with actual runoff elections, the average decline in turnout is 35%. Runoff elections also disenfranchise oversees and military voters, and cost more money to hold. Research indicates that California’s model, the “top-two” or “jungle primary” election, doesn’t solve the problem of winners chosen by a minority of voters, greatly limits voters’ choices and exacerbates the problem of big money in politics.