Maine could become the first state to use ranked choice voting for state and federal elections if voters approve of a proposed ballot question that went before state officials Monday.

A group of advocates of ranked choice voting, which is sometimes called instant runoff, submitted petition signatures Monday needed to put the proposal on the November 2016 ballot.

Ranked choice voting has voters rank candidates in order of preference, knowing that if their first choice does not win, their vote will go to their second choice.

The system eliminates so-called spoiler candidates and ensures a majority of voters for the winner, supporters say. Some proponents of ranked choice voting point to the fact that Republican Gov. Paul LePage won his first term with 38 percent of the vote, but advocates say they expect support for the idea across the political spectrum.

The proposal calls for ranked choice voting in elections for U.S. senator, U.S. representative, governor, state senator and state representative.

Ranked choice is used now in several cities, including Portland, Maine’s largest city, which uses it for the mayoral election. It’s also used in San Francisco, Minneapolis and Takoma Park, Maryland, and in some states for overseas voters and out-of-state military personnel.


“The benefit of ranking more than one is having your voice throughout the election,” said Michelle Whittaker, spokeswoman for Takoma Park-based FairVote.

Supporters of the proposal in Maine turned in 70,000 signatures to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

The signatures will need verification for the proposal to get on the 2016 ballot. The Legislature would also be able to enact the measure on its own.

Dunlap said state officials will have to square the new voting rules with the state’s Constitution if they pass, because the Constitution says the race for governor is decided by a plurality of voters, not a majority. He said new rules could also make election results take longer to calculate, and could affect potential recounts.

“The problem with ranked choice voting is, you might not know for a couple days, and if there’s a recount, it could be months,” Dunlap said.

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