By Polly Ward & Regina Coppens
In March 2011, after a three-year study, the LWVME issued its position in support of Ranked Choice Voting. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) requires the winner in single-seat candidate elections to receive a majority of the votes cast. The State Board of the LWVME studied the pros and cons of various alternative voting methods, reviewed the positions of other state Leagues, gathered research, and developed a questionnaire. These materials, including the questionnaire, were distributed to members in the area Leagues in Portland, Brunswick and Ellsworth for discussion and consensus. Members at large of the LWVME were also included in the consensus process. League members demonstrated a clear consensus in favor of ranked choice voting.
Right now in Maine, the plurality system is used in candidate elections for state and federal office. Each voter marks their ballot for a single candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins. When only two candidates are on the ballot in an election using the plurality system, the winning candidate will always have a majority.
However, in races with three or more candidates, it is possible for a candidate to win with fewer than 50% of the votes; in other words, the winner can be elected by a minority of the voters. Recent examples of this include Maine’s 2006 gubernatorial election in which John Baldacci was re-elected with just 38% of the vote and the 2010 gubernatorial election in which Paul LePage also won with only 38% of the vote. Again in the 2014 election Paul LePage won with only 48% of the vote. In fact, going all the way back to 1974, only twice have we elected our governor with more than 50% of the vote, and both times that happened it was the re-election of an incumbent governor for a second term.
Plurality voting, in which the candidate with the most votes wins, can be thorny in elections with more than two candidates. Voters may sometimes be reluctant to vote for the candidate they most strongly support for fear of facilitating the election of the candidate they most strongly oppose. The winning candidate may be one fervently supported by a minority of voters – albeit a winning plurality – but lacking the broad support of a majority of voters.
On the other hand, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) encourages candidates to reach out to more voters, alleviates concerns about the “spoiler effect,” and ensures the election of candidates who have majority support.
Here’s why the League supports RCV:
- RCV ensures a majority winner
- It minimizes “strategic” voting
- It allows voters to express their sincere preferences among candidates
- RCV eliminates problems of spoiler candidates knocking off major candidates
- RCV does not require separate run-off elections
- It promotes civility in campaigns
- RCV is most likely to elect a candidate with broad appeal
- It may improve voter participation
Rank Choice Voting Explained
In Rank Choice Voting, voters rank the candidates on the ballot, marking their first, second, and third choices, etc., depending on how many candidates are in the race; however, a voter does not have to vote for more than one candidate. In round one, the first-choice votes on all ballots are counted. If a candidate gets 50% + 1 of the votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no one has a majority, the counting goes to round two. The candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. The votes cast for the eliminated candidate are then transferred (or moved) to the second choice listed on each ballot. If someone gets a majority, the election is over. If no one receives a majority, the counting goes to round three. All ballots are re-tallied, with each ballot counting as one vote for each voter’s highest ranked candidate who has not been eliminated. This process of elimination and retabulation is continued until a majority winner is found. That majority winner will have been ranked by 50% + 1 of the voters who ranked at least one non-eliminated candidate. There is no need for a separate runoff election, thus explaining why RCV is sometimes called “instant run-off voting.”
A simple example illustrates how RCV works.
One hundred citizens are voting for the most architecturally unique city hall in Maine. The candidates are Portland City Hall, Augusta City Hall, and Bangor City Hall.
In round one, the first-choice votes are counted. If one of the city halls gets 50% + 1 of the votes, that building is declared the winner. If no city hall has a majority, the counting goes to round two.
In our example, with 100 votes, no courthouse has a majority, so the election goes to the next round.
In round two, the city hall with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. The votes cast for the eliminated building are then transferred (or moved) to the second choice listed on each ballot. If one building now gets a majority, the election is over.
In our example, the lowest vote- getter, Bangor, is eliminated, and the 19 votes are redistributed — 15 for Portland and 4 for Augusta.
Now Portland has 41 + 15 votes or 56, and Augusta has 40 + 4 or 44. The Portland City Hall wins with the majority of the votes. No round three is needed.
What’s Happening Now With RCV
For almost two years, a group of current and former legislators, League members, attorneys, other interested parties, and representatives from FairVote have been meeting in a working group convened by the League to develop a proposal for ranked-choice voting. Read the proposed legislation here. http://www.lwvme.org/files/RCV_Statutory_Language.pdf
In the fall of 2014, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting was formed by former Senator Woodbury to gather signatures for a citizen’s initiative to place Ranked Choice Voting on the ballot for the people of Maine to vote on the proposal. Petitions were distributed beginning on Election Day 2014. The response from voters has been extremely positive. The Committee will continue to collect signatures through the summer and will turn them over to the Secretary of State’s Office in early fall 2015. Once approved by the Secretary of State’s Office, the initiative will appear on the ballot in November 2016.
The summary of the public referendum reads:
This initiated bill provides ranked-choice voting for the offices of United States Senator, United States Representative to Congress, Governor, State Senator and State Representative for elections held on or after January 1, 2018. Ranked-choice voting is a method of casting and tabulating votes in which voters rank candidates in order of preference, tabulation proceeds in rounds in which last-place candidates are defeated and the candidate with the most votes in the final round is elected.
You can sign up for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting mailing list or to help collect the remaining signatures by clicking here: http://www.rcvmaine.com