Ranked-choice voting does not favor Republicans or Democrats. It does help independents, moderates and third-party candidates. That might be why both major parties are uncomfortable with it. The major parties might lose seats to candidates who do not tow a hard left-leaning or hard right-leaning party line, i.e. candidates who would be more willing to compromise.
Ranked-choice voting also favors candidates who are civil, and it thereby logically disfavors candidates who are nasty. Under ranked-choice voting, no candidate can win without receiving approval from at least 50.01 percent of the electorate. Under RCV, candidates cannot afford to alienate large segments of the population. Research has shown that with ranked-choice voting, there are fewer campaign attack ads. Candidates tend to focus on substantive issues rather than personal issues. Those are the reasons ranked-choice voting was introduced as a referendum question. The supporters wanted to save the state of Maine from the wave of polarization that has paralyzed Washington, D.C., and threatens to paralyze Augusta.
The people of Maine voted in 2016 to put ranked-choice voting into place by passing the Ranked-Choice Voting Referendum. Unfortunately, implementation has been held up in the Legislature and in the courts.
Ranked-choice voting supporters have been forced to gather over 62,000 signatures a second time to keep RCV’s future alive, this time during the recent bitter winter of 2017-2018.
They worked as quickly as they could, following state law, and they succeeded in resuscitating ranked-choice voting. But the timing is unfortunate. The fate of RCV will be decided this June when people go to the polls to vote in the major parties’ primaries. At that time there will be just one referendum question on the ballot, the ranked-choice voting question, in its second time around.
This situation is quite ironic. Voters will use ranked-choice voting in the 2018 primaries, and they will also be asked if they want to continue to use ranked-choice voting in the future. The turnout for primaries is always low compared to the turnout in final elections. The RCV issue will be decided by relatively few voters. Ranked-choice voting supporters did not want that to happen. They chose to put the original referendum to the voters in 2016, a presidential election year, rather than in 2015, the first year after they gathered enough signatures. But the legislative and legal hassles forced them to put this second referendum (the people’s veto) on the ballot this June.
Voter turnout will be critical, especially among independents. Since independents cannot vote in the primaries, they will have only one reason to go to the polls: to decide the fate of ranked-choice voting
It is extremely unusual for an issue this important to be decided at the time of a primary election. Hopefully, the independent voters of Maine will rise to the occasion and turn out in large numbers to provide a clear mandate to the state and the nation on how they feel about ranked-choice voting.
Ben Lounsbury is Andrscoggin County chair of the Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting. He lives in Auburn.