With the news that the Maine Republican Party is clearing the field to help former Governor (and current Trumpist caricature) Paul LePage mount a comeback attempt against Governor Janet Mills in 2022, social media once again saw a smattering of posts with a familiar but false idea: Ranked-choice voting will make it more difficult for LePage to win this time around.
“With RCV, LePage will have a very tough time,” tweeted one commenter. “Ranked Choice voting plus Mills’ high approval will make her a tough opponent to beat,” wrote another.
These posts make some sense – both of LePage’s electoral successes came with independent Eliot Cutler also in the race. In 2010, at least, he probably wouldn’t have won if ranked-choice voting had been in effect. His plurality victories by small margins in these races were a big part of the reason behind the implementation of ranked-choice voting in Maine through a citizen-initiated referendum in 2016.
Unfortunately, RCV doesn’t apply in general elections for governor.
In May, 2017, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in a unanimous opinion that a requirement in the state’s constitution that winners in gubernatorial and legislative general elections receive a “plurality” of the vote prohibits the use of ranked-choice voting in those races.
The rest of the law was, after years of legislative wrangling and a return to the ballot box, kept in place for federal elections and legislative and gubernatorial primaries. Last year it was also expanded to the presidential election. But if Mills, LePage and a third-party candidate all face off for governor in 2022, then the winner will still be whoever wins a plurality of the vote, just as it was in 2010.
It would take a constitutional amendment approved by a two-thirds margin in both legislative chambers and then passed in a statewide referendum to change this quirk of Maine election law. Given the current partisan divide over ranked-choice voting, deepened by former Representative Bruce Poliquin’s loss in 2018, this doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon.
In 2019, a proposed amendment to allow ranked-choice voting in all races failed to meet the two-thirds requirement in either chamber along mostly party-line votes. Three Democratic state representatives from northern Maine, John Martin, Steve Stanley and Danny Martin, joined the Republicans in opposing it.
Sen. Dave Miramant of Knox County has sponsored a similar amendment again this legislative session and it is currently being considered by the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs.
“We are already using Ranked-Choice Voting in most of our elections after a long public education process and it is working well,” Miramant testified in a public hearing on the amendment in February. “I hope you will help to remove any questions surrounding implementation in all races by allowing a vote that will remove any conflict between the Constitution and our statutes.”