Eliot Cutler, former independent candidate for governor, has raised questions about the intrinsic power of political parties and whether or not they are relevant.

He and others also believe a governor should be elected by a majority of the voters. Since the election of Gov. Kenneth Curtis in 1970, only Angus King, in his 1998 re-election bid, won a four-year term with a majority of votes.

There may be a solution that strengthens the parties, levels the playing field for independents and produces a majority vote, and all without adding any cost to the taxpayers.

First, let’s look at the parties.

Voters may enroll in a party in order to participate in the June primary elections. Though the parties serve as a forum for candidates to make their pitches, there is no legal role for the party organizations in the selection process. The legal responsibilities for the parties primarily revolve around perpetuating themselves as organizations and complying with campaign laws.

Despite their limited role, parties exist because they embody a set of values. Sometimes those values capture popular sentiment, and at other times they fall out of fashion. Nevertheless, parties are not going to disappear as long as people’s expectations of government differ.

When the economy is strong, Democrats and Republicans default to easy stereotypes. They are pro- or anti- fill-in-the-blank (business, environment, choice, guns, gay rights, welfare, etc.)

In this recent election, the distinctions were drawn around government, regulation, spending and taxation. These economic issues have been the traditional contrast between the two major parties.

In the race for governor, Libby Mitchell owned the pro-government position and received 19 percent of the vote. Paul Le- Page anchored the anti-government sentiment and garnered 38 percent. Eliot Cutler was the hybrid and received 37 percent.

Three clear choices but no majority winner. No majority mandate.

What would happen if the political parties returned to the practice of nominating their candidates for governor through caucuses and conventions rather than in the June primary?

The political parties would be invigorated. The candidate receiving a majority of the votes from state convention delegates in April would become his or her party’s nominee and be placed on the June ballot.

Once again, it would mean something to attend a municipal caucus, run as a delegate in support of a candidate and cast your vote at a state convention.

Candidates would work their tails off to win those delegate positions. It might take multiple ballots at the convention to win a majority but it would be a lot less expensive and more decisive than the fractured primaries we have today.

In the meantime, candidates not affiliated with a party would have to gather their signatures as they do today in order to appear on the ballot. The change, however, would be that they would participate in the June election along with the party nominees in the first of two general elections.

In this scenario, only the top two vote-getters in June would advance to the fall election. It could be a Democrat and independent, two independents or some other combination. The November balloting would serve as a runoff and the winner would be elected by a majority, assuming no write-in candidates deprived the winner of a majority.

No instant runoffs with arcane calculus to determine a winner by process of elimination. No plurality winners. Just a mandate from a majority of Maine voters to move our state in one direction or another.

One of the best outcomes of such a change would be that the parties would be forced to put forward candidates of broad appeal or risk having no one on the ballot in November.

For independents, nothing would change other than the likelihood they could be one of two candidates rather than one of four or five on a general election ballot. If an independent won, it would be with the consent of the majority.

Empowering the parties to put forth their candidates for governor doesn’t deprive partisans of any right, but rather compels them to engage more intimately with the process and encourages face-to-face dialogue, understanding and compromise in their final selections.

How could this come about?

Changing the status quo requires a champion, resources and determination.

With all that said, it is hard to believe that the system currently in place will be discarded — but, as anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

What do you think and what are you going to do about it?

Tony Payne is a lifelong resident of Maine who is active in business, civic and political affairs. He may be reached at:

[email protected]