With regard to our democracy, Americans have always been what I would call “proceduralists.”

If we perceive a flaw, we figure that if we introduce just the right tweak to some structure or procedure, government will perk along like a well-tuned engine or bug-free computer program.

It won’t, of course, because we forget that all societies are still composed of badly tuned and glitch-filled human beings.

Still, some examples are coming up for a vote in November, one of which I will address today. But first, a bit of political history.

Maine is one of a minority of states (24) that permit the “initiative and referendum” process, which has an interesting lineage.

Initiatives allow voters to propose and pass laws directly, while referendums permit them to alter or reject a legislative statute – though today we typically call either type a referendum.


The process was added to numerous state laws by Progressive reformers early in the last century, with the goal of taking power away from what were seen as unrepresentative and even corrupt legislatures and enabling direct democracy.

Along with popular election of senators (via the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913) and Prohibition (which was very much a Progressive idea, ratified by the 18th Amendment in 1919 and repealed by the 21st in 1933), direct voting on statutes represented a significant philosophical change in our democratic vision.

It’s one that the Framers, who understood human nature better than we do, viewed with a skeptical eye.

That’s because their vision of democracy was founded on the philosophies and experience of the Athenian and Roman republics, which provided real-life proof that unchecked majority votes could void republican guarantees and sweep dictators into power on the enthusiasms or fears of the moment.

So our Framers built a republic with firewalls, including:

 The Electoral College, to assure small states a voice in the selection of a president.


A Senate of two members from each state (again, to keep small states engaged) chosen by state legislators, to hold senators a step above popular passions.

A constitutional amendment process that required a supermajority of states, not voters, to ratify any changes.

The “separation of powers,” by which each branch of government had its own defined duties and powers.

But paper barriers are weak ones when citizens don’t respect them. Thus, our Supreme Court sweeps aside laws at the whim of a handful of unelected lawyers, while our president rules by “a phone and a pen” – ignoring our Founders’ warnings and the safeguards they so carefully established.

So, as a state-level example of majoritarianism, let’s take one of the pending ballot questions – so-called “ranked-choice voting.”

Unless a late alteration occurs, the ballot will ask us: “Do you want to change Maine election law to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate and State Representative?”


That is, voters would pick a first choice and then rank the other candidates second, third and so on. If no candidate gets a majority, the lowest is dropped and the ranked votes are added to the survivors until one exceeds 50 percent.

The idea apparently is that electing leaders by mere pluralities is less than fully democratic, and that achieving a majority (even if voters have to be forced into it) extends greater legitimacy to the winner.

Oddly, this wasn’t an issue until Gov. LePage won the Blaine House by consecutive plurality votes (though there’s an argument to be made that his 48 percent second-term margin would have easily been a true majority if it had been a two-man race between him and the less-than-effective Michael Michaud).

But did Gov. Angus King and Gov. John Baldacci, two other plurality winners, also lack legitimacy in office? Few were saying so at the time.

As a supporter of this measure told me months ago, experience in the few places that have tried this system shows that people “don’t need to fear it,” because the person with a plurality on the first round wins the ranked-choice runoff nearly 90 percent of the time, anyway.

If that’s the case, then why are we messing around with the law to produce the same result?


Because, I guess, proceduralists think procedure is what’s most important about government – or, for that matter, life in general.

It’s not, but that’s another column.


Last week I wrote, based on a breaking story, that “the state of Maine” had joined a suit by 10 other states against the Obama administration’s lawless “bathroom rule.” As later accounts noted, it was Gov. LePage’s choice alone to stand up to political correctness run amok.

Which just proves that he has a genuine backbone, while too many others in our state’s leadership remain spineless. Good on you, gov.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:


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