PORTLAND – The Press Herald recently ran a guest column on “ranked-choice voting” by professor Jack O’Brien that suggested voters might help their favorite candidate in the Portland mayor’s race by only ranking one choice.

O’Brien has since said he realized he was in error. Follow his original advice and the only person you will outsmart may be yourself.

With ranked-choice voting, you follow ballot instructions and rank candidates based on preference- at least until you have no opinion about the remaining candidates.


The city clerk collects the ballots and counts all the first choice votes. If a candidate gets 50 percent plus one vote, he or she wins. If no candidate gets a first-round majority, there is an “instant runoff.” The person with the fewest first-choice votes in the first round is eliminated and ballots cast for that candidate are added, based on the next highest choice on each ballot, to the totals of the remaining “active” candidates (the ones still in the race).

If no candidate wins a majority in the first runoff, the city clerk proceeds to a second runoff.


The lowest vote getter in the prior round is eliminated, and each of his or her ballots is added to total for the active candidate ranked highest on that ballot. This process continues until there is a winner.

Keep in mind two critical points: 1) In each round you get only one vote; and 2) on your ballot the candidate who is ranked highest will always get your one vote so long as he or she has not been eliminated (by totaling the fewest votes in a prior round of vote counting).

Any lower preference on your ballot only counts if your top choice is eliminated, in which case the active candidate with the next highest ranking on your ballot receives your one vote. This helps explain why the following strategies don’t make sense:


“Bullet Voting” — ranking one candidate only — doesn’t help your favorite candidate. Ranking him or her first does. Bullet voting only strips you of any choice among candidates 2-15 if your first choice is eliminated.

Ranking your candidate more than once cannot help because your ballot doesn’t count for your second choice unless your first choice has been eliminated. If you rank the same candidate 1st and 2nd and 3rd, the 2nd and 3rd choices don’t help if that candidate has been eliminated in an earlier round.


It’s not easy to have an informed opinion about 15 candidates. Yet, voters should at least try to rank enough candidates so that at least one makes the final round.

There are no games here. We each have one vote, but we can indicate backup choices according to our sincere preferences. That’s the best way to make sure our votes count, and that Portland gets the mayor we deserve.

– Special to the Press Herald


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