In the presidential election we’re once again hearing the “spoiler” epithet applied to third party presidential candidates.

But there’s an unusual twist in the U.S. Senate race in Maine.

The target is Democratic nominee Cynthia Dill.

“Spoiler” talk often arises in close elections in which voters have more than two choices.

In 1980, for example, some Democrats accused my independent candidacy of helping Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter.

Ross Perot and Ralph Nader were also attacked for daring to introduce new ideas and approaches to voters.

This year’s presidential election targets are the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode and Green Party’s Jill Stein.

Johnson was a Republican governor of New Mexico and Goode a Republican congressman, triggering particularly vigorous efforts by Mitt Romney backers to deny them spots on state ballots.

The reason is math and bad voting rules.

Under plurality voting laws established by most states, presidential candidates are able to win all of a state’s electoral votes with a minority of the vote.

In 1992, Ross Perot’s strong performance led to only one state being won with more than 50 percent of the vote.

In 2000, Al Gore lost Florida and the presidency by 537 votes even as Ralph Nader won more than 181 times that margin in the state.

In Maine, the Democrats are becoming the “spoiler” party.

In the 2010 governor’s race, Tea Party-backed Republican Paul LePage won 37.6 percent of the vote, edging more centrist independent Elliot Cutler (35.9 percent), Democrat Libby Mitchell (18.8 percent) and other candidates (7.7 percent). Cutler almost certainly would have defeated LePage easily in a one-on-one race.

This year, the Democrats’ Senate nominee Dill trails Republican Charlie Summers and independent Angus King.

Although most polls show King with a larger lead, a GS Strategy Group poll had King with 37 percent, Summers 33.5 percent and Dill with 17 percent — close to the 2010 outcome.

That’s why the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has run ads attacking Summers, but leaving King unscathed.

The Chamber of Commerce has attacked King, but ignored Dill.

One influential columnist even called on Dill to leave the race.

Democrats can expect more of the same in 2014, when Republican LePage and Democrat Cutler are likely to start off well ahead in the gubernatorial election.

Distorted outcomes and calls for candidates to abandon races underscore the bankruptcy of plurality voting.

Plurality voting forces many voters to vote for a lesser choice candidate rather than one they actually want.

Those voters who refuse to compromise may perversely help elect the candidate they dislike the most.

Either way, they lose.

It’s time for our politicians to uphold majority rule.

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) would allow Americans to achieve the basic goal of representative democracy– electing the candidate with the most support — while ending the concept of “spoiler.”

With such a system, voters can rank candidates in order of choice: first, second and third.

A candidate can win with a majority of first choices.

If there’s no majority winner, the last place candidate is eliminated, and that candidate’s backers have their votes added to the totals of their compromise choice.

This process continues until there’s a majority winner.

It is a proven voting method.

It’s used to elect Ireland’s president, London’s mayor, Australia’s House of Representatives and city leaders in Oakland, Calif.; San Francisco, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.

Voters in Maine’s largest city of Portland used RCV in a much-praised mayoral election last year.

The latest optical scan voting machines make RCV easy to implement.

So the next time you hear a politician talk about “spoilers,” tell them to stop complaining and start standing up for voters.

Our politicians have nothing to fear if truly believing in their party’s ability to win electoral majorities.

Let’s put RCV in place for our presidential elections — and in states like Maine for 2014 elections for governor.

John B. Anderson, former Illinois congressman,was an independent candidate for president in 1980. He serves on the board of FairVote, a nonpartisan electoral reform organization based in Maryland.

 


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