The second most important thing voters can do on Election Day is to pause after casting their ballots and sign a petition to bring ranked-choice or instant-runoff voting to Maine elections.
It is a voting system designed for elections with more than two candidates that is employed in a number of U.S. cities, including Portland. It fixes two of the main problems of multi-candidate elections: It guarantees that the eventual winner has the approval of a majority of the electorate, and it provides a way for people to vote for a first choice – even if it looks as though that person can’t win – and still have the ability to positively influence the election’s outcome.
The need for such a system should be clear to anyone who has followed the gubernatorial race. Because it’s a three-way contest with two center-left candidates and one right-winger, there has been understandable concern on the part of voters who don’t want their influence diluted. Voters and the media have spent more time debating the meaning of polls than policies, making “electability” as important as leadership when evaluating candidates.
The petition drive is backed by independent state Sen. Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth and Democratic state Rep. Diane Russell of Portland. If enacted, voting would look like this:
Instead of picking one name from a list of candidates, voters would rank as many or as few as they like. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes, the last-place candidate is eliminated and that candidate’s second-place votes are distributed to others still in the race.
The process continues until one candidate gets support from more than half the voters.
This kind of voting makes it impossible for candidates to win by appealing only to a narrow base of support. It also makes negative campaigning more risky – a candidate who attacks another candidate could alienate the target’s supporters, losing their support in the later rounds of vote counting.
Before this could become the law in Maine, there is a lot of work to do. The first challenge will be education: Even though ranking is a simple process that we all do all the time in our daily lives, many people will be skeptical about a change in electoral process this significant until they fully understand it.
The next challenge will be legal. Maine’s constitution requires candidates to get a plurality of the votes to win an election, not necessarily a majority. If the electoral reform measure receives enough signatures to get before the Legislature, it could be shot down as unconstiutional by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
That would not be the end, however: The Legislature could begin the process of a constitutional amendment, which would eventually go to the voters for approval. Or advocates could look at alternative electoral reforms such as changing the primary process to winnow the field before the general election.
But before any of that can happen, enough people have to sign the petitions to move the discussion forward.
We have a system that is constructed to serve a world that no longer exists. Across the nation, political parties are becoming less representative of the population, and technological advances have made it easier than ever for individuals and small parties to reach a large number of donors and voters.
Mainers who are tired of campaigns like the one that is now coming to an end should mark the name of their favorite candidate on their ballots and then put their own names on a petition to fix this broken system.