AUGUSTA — The League of Women Voters of Maine is a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. We have been doing this work since 1920, when women first got the vote. We are part of a national federation of state and local chapters all over the country and in every state that works for voting rights, election integrity and the democratic process.
The league never endorses candidates or parties. We do take positions on issues and advocate for public policy outcomes – but only after our members have studied, discussed, and reached broad consensus agreement on that issue.
In 2011, after three years of study, we announced a position in favor of ranked-choice voting in Maine. In coming to this decision, we followed in the footsteps of sister Leagues around the country that began endorsing ranked-choice voting in 1999, including leagues in Vermont, Washington, California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina and South Carolina.
In a recent column, M.D. Harmon called on Maine voters to reject ranked-choice voting, asking rhetorically whether supporters of the idea believe that “plurality winners … lack legitimacy in office” and declaring that “this wasn’t an issue until Gov. LePage won the Blaine House by consecutive plurality votes.”
In the case of the league’s support, that is simply not true. The issue is better governance. We believe that better governance comes when candidates, of any party, are elected by a majority of Maine voters.
League members in Maine believe that elections should be decided by majority vote. Maine has not elected a first-term governor with a majority vote since Kenneth Curtis won in 1966, 50 years ago. In nine of the last 11 races for governor, candidates were elected by fewer than half of voters. In five of those races, candidates were elected by fewer than 40 percent of voters.
Like many of our sister leagues around the country, we endorsed ranked-choice voting as the best solution for Maine because it’s the only reform that gives voters the freedom to support their favorite candidate without worrying that their vote might be wasted or, worse, split with like-minded voters to unintentionally help elect the candidate you like the least.
We believe it will reduce negative campaigning and the money spent on negative advertising because candidates will need to appeal to a broader range of voters for first- and second-choice rankings to build a majority of support. As a voter, you are less likely to rank a candidate as your second choice if that candidate has launched personal attacks against your favorite candidate.
Ranked-choice voting also helps create a richer and, hopefully, more civil dialogue on the issues and increases the diversity of views available for voters to consider by allowing candidates from outside the two major parties to compete.
Under the current system, with more than two candidates in a race, politicians can win a primary and even a general election by talking only to a narrow base of supporters. Candidates appeal to their base and often engage in negative campaigning because it’s an effective strategy for winning elections. They remind their supporters why they dislike or fear the other candidate, rather than telling voters what they stand for themselves. Candidates who appeal to voters in a more positive way are more likely to govern as collaborative leaders.
Poll after poll tells us what we already know: Americans feel that our democracy is “out of balance,” that government is not addressing issues important to “us,” and that the power of wealthy special interests means we’re all not truly equal citizens. Americans want a fair, honest democracy and are hungry for ideas that move us toward more equal participation in civic life.
We fought to restore same-day voter registration in 2011 and to strengthen Maine’s first-in-the-nation Clean Elections law last fall because these policies, like ranked-choice voting, put more power in the hands of voters and move us toward the fairer, more honest democracy so many of us desire.
The implementation of ranked-choice voting in Maine’s state and federal elections will not be without challenges, but we have the right to determine how our democracy works and an obligation to our children and grandchildren to make the system work better. Ranked-choice voting is worthy of that effort for the civic benefits that it can bestow and will pay off many times over in a stronger democracy and a more responsive government.
— Special to the Press Herald