HARPSWELL — When Maine voters adopted ranked-choice voting in 2016, one message was clear. They did not like their governors to be elected by less than a majority. So they adopted the only alternative offered to them.

Electing governors by a plurality – the candidate with the most votes wins – had become a habit. In the 2010 election, Paul LePage won because the opposition vote was split. That tipped the balance.

If Maine wanted to abandon the plurality system – now used by 40 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures – it would have to find an alternative. In short, if you wanted to abandon plurality voting, you had to accept ranked-choice voting.

That’s just what happened. It’s likely that many voters knew what they were rejecting without a clear idea about what they were accepting. Few voters had heard that the proposed system was not consistent with the Maine Constitution, which mandates plurality voting for state elections.

The Legislature tried to impose a pause on using ranked-choice voting until the voters could decide if they wanted to amend the Maine Constitution. But a people’s veto and an April 17 Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling allowed party primaries to take place this year under the new system.

Ranked-choice supporters want to block the pause permanently, leaving Maine with a confused election system. The state now has a patchwork, with some elections, like party primaries, using ranked-choice voting, while other elections, like the one for governor, still use plurality voting.


Question 1 on the ballot would leave this split system in place. If it is voted down, ranked-choice voting might remain an option, but could be considered along with other choices. That’s why Mainers should vote “no” on Question 1. They can keep their options open.

Supporters rejected doubts about whether ranked-choice voting was constitutional. But a year ago, the justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court disagreed with the system’s advocates and advised that at least part of it is unconstitutional.

Now, ranked-choice voting is likely to face yet another legal challenge. It appears to violate the “one person, one vote” requirement that the U.S. Supreme Court says is imposed by the U.S. Constitution.

NBC News splashed this headline on its website: “Maine tries ‘ranked choice’ voting: A ballot can ‘count’ more than once.” It’s correct.

If you vote for the front-running candidate produced by the first computer vote tabulation, that could be your only vote. But if you vote for candidates with less support, you get the automatic chance to cast a new vote for other candidates, perhaps more than once.

Under ranked-choice voting, some voters will have the chance to vote for more candidates than will others. That looks like a violation of “one person, one vote.”


Ranked choice voting is sold as an “instant runoff.” But that may only be the case for some voters. In a real runoff, everybody gets to vote again.

The issue of “one person, one vote” was already raised in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court by one justice. It will certainly have its day in court, possibly both state and federal. It would be unwise to dismiss the question, based on the last time supporters ignored such a warning only to see the justices reject their view.

There are alternatives worth considering. They can produce the same result with much less confusion. California uses the blanket primary, in which all candidates – party members and independents – run. Many candidates run. The top two go on to the general election. Voting requires no special equipment and ballot transport as does ranked-choice voting.

Mainers deserve a serious review of all election options on matters ranging from fairness to effectiveness to simplicity to cost. How does ranked-choice voting compare? Is it a gimmick or a solution to an issue we care about? Does it make democracy more complicated?

The only way we can get the answers is to use the pause adopted by the Legislature to consider all alternatives and avoid more court challenges.

The only way to start the process to determine how we want to vote, instead of grabbing the first alternative offered, is to vote “no” on Question 1.

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