Question 5: a bright spot on the ballot
This year’s ballot has me excited. I know that seems an odd thing to say given the nature of the election cycle this time around, but it’s true. There are five referendums that, if passed, would improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Mainers. While most of the talk related to the referendums has been around gun rights, the state’s minimum wage, and the legalization of marijuana, the most impactful may also be the least discussed: the initiative to implement ranked choice voting.
Ranked choice voting will appear as Question #5 on your ballot, tucked between the minimum wage increase and a $100 million bond to fund infrastructure improvements. It’s a referendum that is rapidly gaining support yet is arguably the least well known.
So what the heck is it?
Say you have three candidates vying for a position in government. In today’s political world, one of those candidates often becomes what is known as a “spoiler,” taking votes from another candidate who might otherwise win the election. You walk into the voting booth, put a check next to someone’s name, and hope for the best. Ranked choice voting works a little differently. In this example, there would be three columns next to each candidate’s name. You would mark your first choice candidate, your second choice candidate, and finally your third choice. When the ballots are counted the first choice votes are tallied, and if any candidate receives a majority of first choice votes (50% or more) they win outright. If nobody receives a majority the candidate with the least amount of first choice votes is eliminated from the race, and the second choice votes are counted. Whichever of the two remaining candidates receives the most first choice and second choice votes combined wins the election.
The most obvious example of where ranked choice voting could have made a difference is in the past two gubernatorial elections where Governor Paul LePage won both races with less than 50% of the vote. In both races he faced like-minded opponents who drew votes from one another. If most of the second choice votes from the “spoiler” candidate had gone to the runner up, it’s likely we would have a different governor right now.
Current politics aside, think about what this means for future elections. When deciding on who to vote for you can go ahead and vote for the candidate you agree with most as your first choice, then put in the “safe” candidate as your second choice without worrying about splitting the vote. You will never have to vote for someone just because they are most likely to win. This will not only give voters more freedom but will also allow a greater variety of candidates to have their voices heard. The more room for meaningful discussion the better off we are as a state.
Ranked choice voting is good for democracy and it’s right for Maine.
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