AUGUSTA — A citizen-initiated ballot question that could change how Mainers elect their governors, members of congress and state lawmakers inched forward on Wednesday.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting said that the Maine Secretary of State has certified the campaign’s signatures to appear on the 2016 ballot.

If successful, the proposal would swap Maine’s current election system for one in which the winning candidates for Congress and state offices are selected by ranked-choice, or instant run-off, voting. Now that the petitions have been certified, the Legislature will have the opportunity to ratify the proposal when it reconvenes next year. However, lawmakers have traditionally rejected ranked-choice proposals and will likely let voters decide the issue at the ballot box next November.

“The eagerness that tens of thousands of people across Maine showed by signing our petitions demonstrates that people believe ranked-choice voting is a better way to elect our leaders,” said former Yarmouth state Senator Dick Woodbury, chairman of the campaign, in a statement. “Now that we have earned a spot on the November 2016 ballot, we’re turning our attention to talking with more Mainers and building our broad-based coalition of citizens who want more civil campaigns and better government.”

In ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates appearing on a ballot in order of preference, although they still have the option of picking one candidate. The system does not affect two-way races, because whoever wins the most votes will win under either voting system.

But, it can have a significant impact in multi-candidate contests. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes cast, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidate and the ballots are retabulated. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of votes and is declared the winner.

Advocates for the change say ranked-choice voting is designed to ensure that the winning candidate receives a majority vote. Additionally, they say it ensures that candidates appeal to a cross-section of voters, not just the narrow, active constituencies that often decide party primary contests.

The initiative has the potential to dramatically change how Mainers elect their U.S. senators and representatives, as well as their governors, state senators and state representatives. While municipalities like Portland have installed ranked-choice voting, no state has implemented the system. Maine would be the first state to do so.

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