Some 388,000 Maine voters said “From now on, it takes a majority of votes to win an election” when they approved the ranked-choice voting citizen initiative last November.

Ranked-choice voting is a simple and tested system that gives voters the power to rank their choices. Ballots are counted in rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until one candidate reaches a majority and wins. Contrast that to the voting system that has been in use in Maine which allows a candidate to win with far less than a majority. In fact, Maine hasn’t elected a governor to their first term with majority support since 1966.

Voters approved the ranked-choice voting system so elected leaders could take office with a clear mandate for making public policy in the interests of the majority, not just their party base. Without having to heed partisan extremes, cooperation, collaboration and compromise can return to governing.

Under this system, candidates are discouraged from negative campaign attacks against their opponents because voters can punish them for engaging in uncivil behavior by ranking them as their second or third choice, or not at all, making their path to victory more difficult.

Unfortunately, there’s a bump in the road. The Maine Supreme Court, in a nonbinding advisory opinion, has said that three out of 10 elections described in the law are likely unconstitutional. The court advises that language in Maine’s constitution allows for plurality winners (less than 50 percent) in general elections for governor, state representative and state senator. However, the court’s opinion does not conflict with ranked-choice voting in seven other types of elections:

Primary elections for governor, the Maine House, Maine Senate, U.S. House and U.S Senate; and general elections for U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

The court’s advisory opinion prompted some in Augusta to say, “I told you so.” Predictably, those voices are more interested in bickering than solving problems. They have missed the point of the people’s vote entirely. The right of Maine citizens to petition their government through initiative is a power enshrined in the Maine state constitution. It is reserved for the people of Maine to check and balance a government that is unresponsive and more interested in kicking the can than fixing a broken system. What we have here is a solvable problem, not a reason to panic.

“Why not ask voters to amend the constitution to require majority elections?”

Well-meaning legislators attempted that last spring. Putting that question on a ballot requires two-thirds of legislators to agree and, with none of the opponents of election reform willing to budge, it fell short of the needed votes. The past legislative session also saw bills attempt to amend the law in ways that still reflect voter intent, resulting in a stalemate of legislative inaction. The reality is that the state constitution has been changed more than 100 times.

“Why don’t elected officials listen when voters vote?” The trouble is, Maine citizens cannot directly change the state constitution. Nope, they must rely on their elected officials to initiate constitutional amendments, only then can they vote on changes pre-approved by elected officials.

Here’s the rub: Elected officials are very good at winning elections using the last election’s method. That is how they got to be elected in the first place.

It is no wonder that some of my colleagues say, “This whole ranked-choice voting thing is confusing.” Of course it is … to them. They might have to rethink how they run for re-election, because some races will have many candidates. (How many gubernatorial candidates are there right now? It proves that ranked-choice voting attracts competition).

Face it, open competition is hard work. Candidates will have to step up their game. Ultimately the winners under ranked-choice voting would have to win more than 50 percent of the votes.

Candidates should not choose voters. Voters should get to choose from many candidates. That drama is precisely why Maine citizens enacted ranked-choice voting — to ensure that the majority rules.

Here is what the public can do. On Monday, Oct. 23, the Maine Legislature is expected to debate a bill I have sponsored to amend the law and allow ranked-choice voting to be implemented in the majority of elections where there are no constitutional questions. State representatives and senators could benefit from public input.

Rep. Kent Ackley represents District 82. He lives in Monmouth.

Rep. Kent Ackley


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