One of the most popular ways to explain ranked-choice voting asks people to imagine an election in which they are picking their favorite member of The Beatles.

If 100 voters were asked to rank the Fab Four on their ballots and then the first-place votes were counted, the results might look like this.

John Lennon, 41

Paul McCartney, 35

George Harrison, 14

Ringo Starr, 11

Since no one got 51 votes, the ballots would be subject to an instant run-off.

Ringo would be eliminated from the contest, and his ballots examined. His voters’ second choices would be allocated to the other candidates and the votes counted again. If all of those votes went to John, he would have 52 and be declared a winner.

If they all went to Paul, he would jump ahead of John with 46 votes and would need only five of George’s 14 votes to take the crown in the next round.

So if you are a candidate in a ranked-choice voting election, it’s not only important to get second-place votes, but it also matters whose second-place votes you get.

In The Beatles election, 76 people voted for either John or Paul, but their second-place votes will never be counted. It’s the backers of the least popular candidate – the Ringo voter – who gets to push a candidate over the top or deny a front-runner the prize.

And who is the Ringo voter? Well, for instance, there’s me.

In 1969 in Miss Siles’ second grade class, I went as Ringo Starr for Halloween. (I wore a handkerchief tie with a slide, a fake droopy moustache and had a black circle of felt in my bell bottoms, which I would pull out and say, “I’ve got a ‘ole in me pocket.”)

I could have gone as John, the edgy genius, or Paul, the pop master-craftsman. I could have picked George, the guitar wizard, but no.

I went as the rhythmically challenged drummer with the big nose because I thought he was funny.

Do you really want someone like me deciding your election?

How Portland’s 15 mayoral candidates navigate the Ringo vote is one of the most interesting and unexplored aspects of this race, the first in Maine to use ranked-choice voting.

Since no one expects a winner in the first round, the eventual mayor will need second-choice votes to win.

So far that has been interpreted to be a warning against negative campaigning, but it should be more nuanced than that. There is no cost for a leading candidate to challenge a close competitor because there will probably be a winner before either of them is eliminated and any of their second-choice votes counted.

In other words, if you are John, you can beat up on Paul, as long as you are nice to George and Ringo.

The problem in Portland is that no one really knows who the John and Paul candidates are in this race because there are so many of them and they draw support from so many different sources.

Will the Back Cove, West End or North Deering neighborhoods, which each have more than one mayoral candidate, pick a local favorite or split? Where will the school parents go, or the art community or the conservatives (yes, there are conservatives in Portland). A small sliver of the electorate could make a big difference.

Another quirk in this race will be the “no mayor” voter.

Candidate Michael Brennan recently noted that when he is out knocking on doors, he runs into voters who say they don’t believe that there should be an elected mayor so they don’t support anyone.

It’s hard for a candidate to hear, but it makes sense, in a way. The charter change that created the elected mayor position passed by a very narrow margin, so there are a lot of people who may not want to see anyone get in.

Still, there will be big campaigns on other issues that will get people out to the polls this year, such as the people’s veto on same-day voter registration, the Cumberland County Civic Center renovation and two gambling questions, so you would think that at least some of the “no mayor” voters will have a ballot in their hands.

If you are against the elected mayor, what do you do?

Do you leave it blank, pick the best candidate available or “send a message?” And if you are a candidate, how do you go after the “no mayor” vote?

The great thing about that is, nobody knows.

Since this is the first election for this office using this election scheme, there is no playbook and no conventional wisdom for how it gets done.

And anyone bothered by all the quirks in the ranked-choice voting system should take a moment to reflect on how messed up things would be if we didn’t have it.

In a 15-way race using the more familiar winner-take-all system, a candidate could be elected with less than 10 percent of the vote. That would make Gov. LePage’s 38 percent look like the mandate he seems to think it is.

And counting second-place votes doesn’t make Ringo the most popular Beatle, it just breaks what is essentially a tie.

With seven weeks to go before Election Day, the candidates and the voters in Portland still have a lot to figure out.

Not the least of which will be how to capture that Ringo vote.


Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481, or: [email protected]