We need an electoral system built for the way we live today, not for the way our grandparents lived.

That’s why we support Question 5, a proposal to introduce ranked-choice voting in primaries and general elections for U.S. senator, U.S. representative, governor and members of the Maine Legislature.

This reform represents a bold change, but it’s a change that would bring back something we’ve lost – consensus politics in a time of political fragmentation.

Our current system took shape when there were two strong parties that dominated the political process. Parties won elections by assembling coalitions and selecting candidates who had broad appeal. It was hard for fringe elements to break through.

But even though Maine’s political parties have been in decline for decades, they still have an outsized influence on the process. Nominees selected by the small number of committed partisans who show up to vote in June have enormous institutional advantages on Election Day in November.

That puts the largest group of voters, those who are not active as either Democrats or Republicans, in a bind.


They have no say in the selection of a party nominee, but they can’t vote for a third-party candidate without risking a vote for a “spoiler” who fragments opposition and gives an extreme candidate a path to victory.

Campaigns like this become exercises in handicapping, with voters and the media calculating who a third-party candidate “takes” votes from – as if anyone’s vote “belongs” to any candidate – instead of analyzing which person would do the best job.

Ranked-choice voting changes that dynamic. Voters can pick the person they think is the best without giving up the ability to have some say in the choice among the other candidates.

Contrary to what opponents claim, ranked-choice voting is not a complicated system.

On Election Day, voters get a ballot, go behind a curtain and mark the oval next to the name of their favorite candidate. For some, that’s all they’ll do.

If there are more than two candidates in the race and a voter has a second choice, the ballot has a place to register that preference.


The voter can rank all the candidates or none.

It’s the kind of decision that everybody makes every day of their lives. If you ever wanted strawberry ice cream but the store had only chocolate and vanilla, you ranked your choice by buying one of the other flavors or by skipping ice cream altogether. There is no trick to it.

And there is nothing mysterious about the vote counting, either. If no candidate gets a majority after the first-place votes are counted, the last-place candidate is eliminated.

Then the ballots of the voters who favored that candidate are examined, and their second-place choices are allocated to the remaining candidates. The votes are counted again and the process continues until one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. It’s just a series of runoffs, which is why it’s also known as “instant runoff voting.”

This is not a process that Maine voters will have trouble understanding.

Another common critique of Question 5 is that it’s a sour grapes complaint over the election and re-election of Gov. LePage in 2010 and 2014.


It’s true that there was much less call for election reform after independent Angus King or Democrat John Baldacci were elected with less than a majority of the votes in 1994 and 2002. But this is not a backlash against a governor because he is a Republican.

Even LePage supporters have to acknowledge that he represents a new era in Maine politics, one that is more openly partisan and hostile to compromise than any we have ever seen. A left-wing candidate with small but enthusiastic support could also win a multi-candidate race if the opposition were divided the way it was for LePage.

Parties used to play the role of consolidating opinion and building big coalitions that could win elections, but it’s unrealistic to believe that they can reclaim that role.

We are much more likely to see competitive multi-candidate races in the future than we are to see a return of two-party dominance.

Under the current system, loud voices are noticed and the ability to bring people together undervalued.

Ranked-choice voting is the right change for Maine.

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