Question 5 could improve Maine’s political climate
If anything is certain, the 2016 campaign season has brought to light that many voters are growing weary of negative campaigning and the feeling as if their government is unresponsive to their concerns. Luckily, here in Maine, we are going to have an opportunity to help turn the tide. Ranked choice voting (RCV) presents Maine voters will a range of improvements to their electoral system which could heavily affect feelings of malaise. The ballot initiative promises to change our elections in a number of ways. Here are just three:
Candidates will have to win with more than 50% of the vote
RCV will ensure that the people who win our elections do so with more than 50% of the vote. Since 1974, nine out of the eleven gubernatorial elections in Maine were won with less than fifty percent. For example, Angus King in 1994 won with 35%, LePage in 2010 with 37%, and James Longley in 1974 with 39%. What this means is that the citizens of Maine have been chronically represented by governors who were elected by a minority of voters. Voting Yes on 5 this November will do away with the political climate that brought about the “We are the 61% of Maine that did not vote for Paul LePage” movement in Maine. It will ensure that elected leaders are responsive to more people over the course of their term.
Some opponents say that RCV is a ploy invented by upset liberals after LePage won twice with less than 50%. A quick examination of election results over the last 42 years, though, will reveal that Democrats, Republicans, and independents have all won with less than 50%. The push for RCV isn’t a partisan one; it’s an effort to strengthen the relationship between elected officials and the constituents they represent.
It eliminates “strategic voting”
Often in our elections – which frequently consist of more than two contenders (one Democrat, one Republican, and one independent) – some voters are forced into so-called strategic voting. Rather than voting for the candidate they most align with, they end up voting for the person in the best position to beat the candidate they least like. For example, in 2010, many progressive and typically Democratic voters found themselves aligning more independent Eliot Cutler. But with the fear of a second LePage term, some voted for their second choice – Democrat Mike Michaud – in a strategic effort to keep LePage out of the Blaine House. With RCV, the need for strategic voting is eliminated. Voters can choose a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice without the pressure of just picking one. Plus, through this process, the label “spoiler” is unlikely to come up.
Opponents of Question 5 say that run-off elections are a better way to avoid strategic voting and spoilers, purporting that the process seems less complicated than RCV. But the problem with run-off voting is that you’d need to hold two elections, which would naturally become costlier: 2 sets of ballots, 2 days of wages for election workers, and 2 days of having to find time to get to the polls. RCV means voting still can happen in just one day and be just as fair and easy to understand.
It reduces negative campaigning
Because voters are ranking their choices by preference, the temptation for candidates to run negative campaigns is reduced. Voters are sick and tired of the sensationalized ads on TV slamming candidates with a barrage damning newspaper reports or opening their mailboxes to find a strongly-worded mailer explaining the wrongdoings of a candidate’s opponent. Instead of reminding the electorate of how bad their fellow contestants are, candidates are more compelled under RCV to talk about themselves – and the issues they care about – sometimes even asking for consideration as a second choice. RCV encourages candidates to look for a broad base of support.
Some critics of RCV claim that it actually won’t affect negativity in campaigning but offer no alternative. In an era during which we have people like Donald Trump, whose go-to strategy is attacking and slandering his opponents, we need to explore solutions that return the conversation back to the issues and back to the lives of voters. RCV will help to get us there.
The current political climate has bred divisiveness, negativity, and distrust in the system. Passing RCV will be a major step in creating an electoral system that is more equitable and responsive to the needs and desires of the citizens. Voting Yes on 5 this November (or right now through absentee voting) is the right choice for Maine.
Photo: RCV supporters participate in a mock election at Foundation Brewing Company, via campaign website.
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