In the choosing of our governor, the Maine Constitution of 1820 made it law that “if no person shall have a majority of votes, the House of Representatives shall, by ballot, from the persons having the four highest number of votes on the lists, … elect two persons … of whom the Senate shall, by ballot, elect one, who shall be declared the Governor.” The Constitution did not say that the winner of the most popular votes had to be the election’s winner. Therein lays a problem:

In the Maine gubernatorial election of 1878, Alonzo Garcelon, a Democrat, was awarded the win, despite his being credited with only 22 percent of the vote, against 44 percent for the incumbent Republican.

The election for governor in 1879 threatened a repeat performance, but the Republican side prevailed.

To thwart similar occurrences in the future, the state Constitution was amended in 1880 to recognize election of governors exclusively by popular vote. This resulted, unavoidably, in allowing victories by plurality.

Ranked-choice voting, completely in accord with the exclusive hegemony of the popular vote, also doesn’t delegitimize winning elections by plurality vote, but puts winning by plurality in its place as a secondary effect, not a stand-alone principle recognized in every context. RCV does not abolish winning by a plurality, though it removes the certainty of winning by a first-tally plurality of the votes cast. It is just an extension of the popular vote principle that deserves acceptance without a need to amend the Constitution.

Russell Dupree

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