AUGUSTA – A group that wants to implement ranked-choice voting in Maine elections plans to wait until 2016 to put its proposal before voters.

The Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting had been considering filing signatures to force a referendum this November, but it now wants more time to educate voters on the proposal’s merits, said former independent Sen. Richard Woodbury, who is helping to lead the effort.

Under the group’s proposal – which would apply to races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor and state Legislature – voters would rank candidates by order of preference. The first-choice votes would be counted, but if no one receives a majority, then the person who received the fewest is eliminated.

Voting officials would then re-distribute the second-place votes from the ballots of the eliminated candidate to those who remain. That would continue until someone gets more than 50 percent of the votes.

Currently, campaigns focus less on policy and more on whether one of the contenders is dividing the vote when there are three or more candidates in a race, Woodbury said.

In last year’s race gubernatorial contest, independent Eliot Cutler had to overcome the idea that he was a spoiler, whose presence in the race would help Republican Gov. Paul LePage win another term.


“It has taken the focus away from issues and governance and leadership and vision,” Woodbury said.

The deadline to submit signatures for the 2015 ballot is Thursday. Woodbury said the group has gathered at least 61,000 signatures so far, but he couldn’t provide an exact count. At least 61,123 validated signatures – or 10 percent of the total votes cast in the 2014 governor’s race – will be needed to get the proposal on the ballot next year.

Waiting until 2016 will also allow ranked-choice voting advocates to take advantage of higher turnout during a presidential election year. And it provides the group more time to work with town clerks and the secretary of state’s office to ensure that the system could be fully implemented by 2018 if voters approve it, Woodbury said.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said a number of issues would have to be worked out in order to implement ranked-choice voting, like whether the state would be able to continue with its system of paper ballots or would have to switch to electronic voting machines. His office has not yet taken a position on the proposal.

“We will be interested to see what they do and what they have to say about it,” Dunlap said.

If approved, Maine would be the first state to pass ranked-choice voting, Woodbury said. The system has been used by some cities, including Portland, for mayoral races.

While Mainers won’t consider a ranked-choice voting measure this year, they may get to vote on a proposal aimed at strengthening the state’s public-financing elections law. Maine Citizens for Clean Elections delivered more than 85,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday in an attempt to force a referendum on its proposal to give publicly financed candidates more access to cash on the campaign trail.

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