Election day is less than a week away and voters in some parts of the state are about to confront something a little unconventional: ranked-choice ballots.

Maine voters have more experience with the non-traditional ballot system than voters in any other state, but it can still be a bit confusing. And it may be a new and unfamiliar experience for some voters.

Here’s a refresher about what to expect.

Q: What is it?

Ranked-choice voting is used to ensure a winning candidate has broad support and does not win an election with the support of fewer than half of the voters. That can happen under the traditional voting system if two similar candidates split the support of the majority of voters, allowing a third candidate to win despite having a smaller base of support.

Q: How does it work?


Ranked-choice voting is only used in races that have three or more candidates. In the ranked-choice voting system, voters can rank candidates in order of preference. Election officials then count the first-choice votes.

If one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round of counting, that candidate is declared the winner.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, the last-place candidate is eliminated and that candidates’ votes are redistributed to their voters’ second choices. That process carries on until one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote.

Q: Do I have to rank them all?

No. You can rank as many candidates as you want or just vote for one. If you only pick one candidate and that person is disqualified in the first round, your ballot will simply not be counted in the next rounds.

Q: What happens if I rank my preferred candidate in all of the available preference positions?


Your vote would be counted in the first round only. If your candidate moves on to the second round, your second-place choice will not be applied. A voter can only vote once for any individual candidate.

Q: Given the process for ranked-choice voting, will we know who wins on election night?

If no one wins in the first round of counting, probably not. In Portland, ranked-choice runoffs have been held the following day. It takes longer to do the run-offs at the state level because ballots are transported and processed in Augusta. It took about nine days in November 2018 to determine a winner in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race, when Democrat Jared Golden was declared the winner with 50.5 percent of vote.

Q: Is Maine the only place that does this?

Maine enacted the ranked-choice voting law in 2016 and first used it in 2018.

Maine was the first state to adopt ranked-choice voting for statewide and federal general elections and was later joined by Alaska. Other jurisdictions across the country use the voting system in federal primaries, state and local primaries and general elections.

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