Heidi Drew, 40, of Biddeford, left, and Missy Esty, 48, of Westbrook, right, fill out their ballots for a “beer election” sponsored by the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting at Dirigo Brewing Co. Thursday.

Heidi Drew, 40, of Biddeford, left, and Missy Esty, 48, of Westbrook, right, fill out their ballots for a “beer election” sponsored by the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting at Dirigo Brewing Co. Thursday.

BIDDEFORD — This election season may be driving some people to drink, and one group of campaign activists are capitalizing on the idea.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting brought its “beer election” event to Dirigo Brewing Co. on Thursday, during which supporters of the Yes on 5 campaign ranked their favorite beers to illustrate the RCV process.

The committee is hosting the events across the state to spread awareness about Question 5 of the Maine Nov. 8 general election, in which voters will choose whether or not to establish a statewide instant-runoff voting system.

Question 5 asks Maine voters: “Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?”

A “yes” vote would ensure a fair, majority rule election, said Event Coordinator Griffin Johnson.

“It eliminates vote-splitting or the need for strategic voting. If there’s a candidate you really like, you don’t have to feel like you’re throwing away your vote. It allows you freedom to vote for your favorite candidate without fear that your least favorite candidate could possibly win,” Johnson said.

“We count up everybody’s first choices. If somebody has the majority, they’ve won the election,” Johnson said. “We eliminate the last place candidates until a candidate emerges with majority support.”

Johnson said the RCV system also helps keep elections civil, as candidates are encouraged to reach out to a broader array of constituents, who may then list them as a second or third choice on the ballot, if not first.

The system may sound complex at first, Johnson said, but he argues holding the beer election shows people it’s no different than what they already do every day.

“We rank things every day of our lives, whether it’s ice cream, whether it’s beer. And so this is just an opportunity to see how the system works, how easy it is to fill out a ballot,” he said.

While many of those who attended the event happened upon the beer election without prior knowledge, the campaign drew several supporters who were enthusiastic about the upcoming referendum.

“I think (ranked-choice voting is) a more fair way to get rid of the ‘lesser of two evils’ that we’ve been doing for decades,” said Heidi Drew, 40, of Biddeford. “I think events like this gets the word out more. I think there are people who just happen upon it and they learn more about the issue.”

With Drew was Missy Esty, 48, of Westbrook, who said she also supported the cause.

“I definitely believe in ranked-choice and I believe that it’s important. It’s a better option because, the more choices you have, the more chance the peoples’ vote will really be represented,” Esty said.

Esty said the event created a “friendly way to talk about politics,” while drawing people to local businesses. For her, it was a win-win situation.

“It’s up and coming here in Biddeford as far as breweries and great restaurants and stuff,” she said. “As far as political reasons, I think it’s a great concept, and this is creative getting people out to think about the concept.”

Johnson said some people may be opposed to RCV because they may think it’s confusing or prefer a traditional voting process. Alison Godbout, who also works with the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said some people believe RCV is unconstitutional, although this is not true, she said.

In total, 26 voters participated in the beer election, with Dirigo’s chocolate wheat ale, the schöps, coming in first with 14 votes after the RCV procedure.

The schöps earned 12 votes, which was not the majority. The brewery’s German pale ale earned 10, and their rotbier, a red ale, earned four. The rotbier was eliminated, and the remaining two beers were awarded two votes each, because voters had listed each as their second choice beer.

Following the election, Johnson reiterated he believes RCV will bring fairness back to the election process.

“We rank things all the time … this will restore majority rule,” he said.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

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