PORTLAND – Ranked-choice voting might seem complicated to the average voter, but to Caleb Kleppner, it’s pretty simple.

Kleppner, vice president of TrueBallot Inc., a consulting firm based in New Haven, Conn., was invited by the city to spend Thursday night answering media and voter questions about the process and giving ballot-tallying demonstrations.

About 30 people, including mayoral candidates and members of the city’s defunct Charter Commission, attended Kleppner’s presentation at City Hall.

“Ranked-choice voting is easy for voting. All you have to do is think about the candidates you like and rank them in order of preference. That completes Lesson 101,” he joked.

Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman, said Portland will spend about $20,000 to have TrueBallot help develop a Nov. 8 ballot and tabulate results from its 15-person mayoral contest.

Clegg said it’s important that not only the media, but also the voting public, understand how ranked-choice voting works.

“There is a lot of curiosity out there,” Clegg said before Thursday’s presentation. “This is being held to help demystify the process. It’s important that our voters have full confidence in the process.”

Ranked-choice voting for Portland’s mayor begins with voters selecting their top choice. They can also rank other candidates according to preference, with no limit on how many are ranked.

“You can rank as many candidates as you want, from one candidate to 15 or some number in between,” Kleppner said.

But, Kleppner did offer advice about how many candidates a voter should rank.

“Rank candidates until you are indifferent. . . . Just keep going until you don’t care about the candidates (who are left),” he said.

During the first round of counting, if any candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes, that person wins the election.

But Kleppner doesn’t expect that to happen on election night in Portland because of the size of the field.

He said the more likely scenario will be that no one gains a clear majority after the first round. Under the ranked-choice voting system, the candidate with the lowest number of votes in the first round is eliminated. But the second-place votes of those whose top choice was the eliminated candidate will be added to the tallies of the other candidates.

The tallies will continue — with the candidate with the lowest vote total being eliminated and other votes cast by that person’s supporters being distributed to remaining candidates — until a someone emerges with a clear majority.

Kleppner said a person’s top choice will continue to count until that candidate is eliminated or wins the election.

Some voters might prefer to vote for a single candidate, which is fine, but they cannot assign the No. 1 ranking to more than one person.

Kleppner also offered some advice to candidates. To be successful, he said, they should appeal to a broad spectrum of voters, including those who do not intend to make that person their top choice.

“You need to get votes from the other candidates’ supporters to get to 50 percent plus one,” he said.

In Portland, Kleppner’s company should be able to declare a winner the day after the election, he said. He’s just not sure how long the process, which is done by computer, will take.

The audience reaction to ranked-choice voting was mixed. Some seemed worried that the voting population might not understand the process. Others said they like the system because it will determine a winner in a single election, and will cut down on negative campaigning because a candidate who attacks an opponent risks alienating that opponent’s supporters.

“What this avoids is a runoff election. We only have to go to the voting booth once,” Nathan Smith said. Smith served on the Charter Commission, which recommended that the city use ranked-choice voting to elect a mayor.

Ben Chipman, another commission member, said he thinks ranked-choice voting will eliminate negative campaigning.

Chipman also likes the possibility that a person who places third or fourth in the initial round of counting can come from behind to win. That was the case in a recent Oakland, Calif., race where the eventual winner placed second in the initial round.

“With 15 candidates, anything could happen,” Chipman said.

One mayoral candidate, Hamza Haadoow, said he is concerned that people might get confused at the polls. He hopes election officials will be available to answer questions.

“The important thing is not to overthink it,” said Anne Schink, who lives in South Portland but came to the meeting out of curiosity.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]