On the road to making our democracy more democratic

With the submission of over 72,000 signatures, the movement for ranked choice voting is one step closer to ensuring that voters have the benefit of the election system they have repeatedly demanded.

The last hurdle to overcome is the Secretary of State’s certification of at least 61,123 signatures no later than March 5th, and all signs indicate that the certification is very likely.

This puts Maine on the pathway to a new and improved approach to elections for the primary on June 12, 2018. Candidates, party primary voters, and the general public are eagerly looking forward to having their full voice heard for the first time in a statewide election anywhere in the United States.

Even some unenrolled voters are signing up with one of the parties for the simple reason that they want the experience of filling out a ranked-choice ballot in fulfillment of this long quest.

RCV was designed to fit neatly within the existing election system, honoring the practices and traditions that are so deeply engrained in our political culture. But it will require some adjustments to the design of the ballot, the process of counting the votes, and the announcement of results.

So although the opportunity for voters to fully express their voice is early anticipated, much work remains to be done to ensure a smooth, accurate, and user-friendly Election Day experience across over 400 voting districts in Maine.

The moment the signatures are confirmed, state election officials should immediately take the following steps to guarantee a seamless transition to ranked choice voting:

First, the Secretary of State should be given all the resources necessary to administer the law and ensure transparent and accurate counting of RCV ballots. This is not an opportunity to acquire ancillary equipment, but where necessary the state (and municipalities) should invest in the infrastructure appropriate to RCV elections.

Second, election officials should begin a public process for receiving input on the implementation of RCV. While public officials and staff have expertise, the public should be included in the formulation of the detailed election plan just as the public would be included in any comparable regulatory process.

Third, state and local officials should review the “best practices” from those jurisdictions – including Portland – where RCV has been implemented successfully in recent years. This is an easy way to benefit from the real-world experience of many other clerks, wardens, and administrators who have navigated this transition and conducted RCV elections consistent with the very highest standards the public expects.

Fourth, candidates, voters, and the political parties should support educational efforts to notify all voters of the new ballot form and to provide assistance with any questions that might arise as voters make the transition to RCV for these races.

All of this work should be performed in a way that honors our tradition of highly transparent, reliable, and democratic election procedures. The League of Women Voters of the United States has developed the following core election principles which we believe should guide Maine election officials in the administration of the June primary election – our first statewide election using ranked choice voting:

  1. The election must be accessible. This means that the voter registration and voting processes are free from unreasonable obstacles; that all voting procedures and instructions, including the ballot itself, are widely available, clear and understandable to voters; and that voters with voting questions receive appropriate assistance from clerks, wardens, and volunteers at the polling place and that voters experiencing cognitive or physical disabilities shall have the same opportunity as other voters to vote their ranked-choice ballot privately and independently.
  1. The election must be secure. This means that ballot applications, ballots, voter rolls, and all related paper and electronic records are created, distributed, stored and maintained so that no unauthorized person can tamper or interfere in any way, and that no records are inadvertently damaged, misplaced, delayed, or altered during the election process and through any recounts or audits.
  1. The election results must be accurate. This means that the voters’ marks on ballots are read to correctly reflect the intention of the voter, that the mechanisms for aggregation and tabulation of separate ballots into an election result strictly conform to the approach set forth in law and regulations, and that protocols are in place to detect and limit the effect of any human or mechanical errors, flaws, irregularities, loss of information, or discrepancies that diminish confidence in the process or affect the outcome of the election.
  1. The election must be transparent. Every step in the election process from the design of election procedures through the completion of all recounts or audits must be visible to the public to the greatest extent possible and any portions of the process not open to public inspection must be protected by appropriate security measures to ensure the integrity of election systems and materials. Any software, digital files, or electronic processing and transmission of election information shall be open to inspection, verification, and replication by the public using appropriate means including third-party software tools. Transparency shall be provided without delay.
  1. Election results must be announced to the public in a timelyfashion. The public must have sufficient and immediate information about the process of tabulating ballots as the process is unfolding, including immediate progress reports, intermediate status, and publication of statewide first-rank vote recipients. Election administrators must create and implement a plan for tabulating and announcing the results recognizing that time is of the essence, and that any needless delay would be detrimental to public confidence in the results. Final election results must be certified within the time frame established under current law.
  1. The election must be recountable. Consistent with existing recount principles, referring back to the source paper ballots, election officials must institute a plan that allows for complete, prompt, and accurate recounts in any race where the tabulated results show that small anomalies in the count could affect the ultimate outcome.
  1. Maine needs to implement election audits. Ideally, within a short time after results are finalized, election administrators should perform a random audit of appropriate design and sufficient scope to verify Election Day tabulations and confirm public confidence in all aspects of the election administration. Although it does not appear likely in time for the June 2018 primary, Maine should move toward implementing election audits as soon as possible.

We recognize the vital role played by election officials and the burden they carry of satisfying the public trust in this fundamental component of our democratic system. The implementation of RCV in Maine will shine a spotlight on their ability to play their crucial role in our democracy. We look forward to saluting them for continuing their tradition of accuracy, transparency, and excellence in election administration.

About Anna Kellar

Avatar photoAnna Kellar is the executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. She grew up in Maine, before earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Yale University and a Masters degree in conflict studies from the London School of Economics. Anna ran for the state legislature as a Clean Elections candidate in 2016.

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