Now that they’ve turned in the signatures, ranked-choice voting proponents appear to have at least staved off the Legislature’s attempt to repeal the law, which was passed by referendum in 2016.

Ranked-choice voting will be in effect for the primaries in June, assuming that enough of the signatures are validated by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Voters will not only be able to use ranked-choice voting in the primaries, they will also get the chance to weigh in on ranked-choice voting itself, deciding whether to uphold the Legislature’s decision to delay the law or put it immediately into effect in some races.

The mere presence of this question on the ballot in June will affect the tactics of the various gubernatorial candidates, of course. While most of the Republican candidates have made their opposition to the idea well known, a few have unclear positions, and they’ll have to formulate those before the primary. Although the idea hasn’t drawn much support from the Republican Party, it does have some, and any Republican who chooses to embrace it (or at least not oppose it) could endear themselves to Republican ranked-choice voting supporters.

On the Democratic side, the picture is more muddled. Attorney General Janet Mills has been fully immersed in the efforts of the Democratic establishment to kill ranked-choice voting, offering a legal opinion that the practice could be unconstitutional. Even if she were to attempt an about-face (which she’s shown no inclination of doing), there probably aren’t many ranked-choice voting supporters who would forgive her past opposition. Moreover, they have their choice of candidates who support the idea, including Betsy Sweet, Adam Cote and Mark Eves. If progressive activists who support ranked-choice voting turn out in force to uphold the policy in June, it’s not clear who it will help – other than it will do no favors to Janet Mills.

Another open question about ranked-choice voting being in place for the primary is what effect it will have on campaign strategies.


At a recent gubernatorial forum in Portland sponsored by the Associated General Contractors of Maine, the candidates threw in their fair share of barbs at one another. One of the promises of ranked-choice voting supporters is that this system will encourage friendlier campaigns, as candidates will need to appeal to being people’s second or third choices as well as first. The coming weeks may be a test of that claim, as we will get a chance to see in real time how candidates react – or don’t – to ranked-choice voting being in place. If they begin to refrain from attacking one another, proponents may indeed have a point – but is that really what we want out of campaigns?

Time and time again, when polled on the issue, voters say they hate negative campaigning, yet candidates continue using it because it works. It works because so-called negative campaigning, when done correctly, can act to actually inform the public, letting them know of a candidate’s past votes and other decisions in their lives. As long as the information is accurate and fairly presented, voters have a right to it so they can make a fully informed decision. Unfortunately, ranked-choice voting may discourage not only unfair attacks, but also completely fair ones, leaving voters less informed as the candidates scramble to avoid offending anyone. We’ve seen this play out in Supreme Court nomination fights, when nominees try to say nothing in an effort to conceal their views on important issues. That shouldn’t be a model we want to replicate in our elections.

With ranked-choice voting in place for the primaries, counting may well take longer than usual. Rather than having a firm idea of who the winner is by the end of the night (or at least the next day), we may have to wait weeks for ballots to be collected from all over the state and counted centrally. Moreover, although the Maine Supreme Judicial Court didn’t say that ranked-choice voting was unconstitutional for primaries, using it could still result in lawsuits as we adjust to the new system. All of that could severely handicap any nominee who’s eventually declared the winner.

Had the Legislature acted to implement ranked-choice voting last session, rather than trying to delay it, we could have avoided all of this. Instead, they undermined the law, leaving us in the current stalemate that could well cause immense chaos in June. Hopefully, for the sake of us all, legislators – and supporters of future refernda – learn from all of this for next time.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel

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