Tables with petitions to get the “people’s veto” to prevent overturning ranked-choice voting on the ballot in Maine.

Gathering petitions for the “people’s veto.”

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting celebrates its victory in the June 2018 election in a scene from the documentary. Photos courtesy of the film

For some people, making a movie means waiting for the right idea to come along. For Massachusetts filmmaker Scotty Vercoe, that inspiration arrived in the form of Maine’s successful movement to implement ranked-choice voting last year.

“I’m a film composer by trade,” said Vercoe, producer of the new documentary short “The Battle for Ranked Choice Voting,” “but many people have told me, ‘You love documentaries, so why don’t you make one?’ My response was always that that sounds nice, but I don’t have a topic in mind. And then this issue fell into my lap.”

That was back in 2017, when Vercoe was himself volunteering in Massachusetts residents’ ongoing attempt to make ranked-choice voting the law in the Bay State. “I saw that nobody was really covering this sort of groundbreaking story, about Maine being the first state to potentially institute ranked-choice voting. So I found a director.”

He and that director, Julie Mallozzi, set out for Maine, riding their connections to those in the ranked-choice movement to interview people trying to fundamentally change how statewide candidates are elected.

Said Vercoe: “We just came up and started hanging around the office, canvassing, and following all around the state.” Those people were engaged in the so-called People’s Veto, an ultimately successful movement to block the then-Republican-led Maine Legislature from overturning a 2016 vote instituting the new voting system. For Vercoe, that effort was a triumph for Mainers, and a harbinger of a shift in American politics.

“It was about leaving that to the Maine voters,” Vercoe said. “They had the final say in that.”

Explaining his support for this new way of calculating a winner, Vercoe said, “A lot of people felt like their votes were being cast aside, that they were having to choose between the lesser of two evils. In a state like Maine that has such a strong independent movement – look at Angus King – it’s not surprising that the idea took hold.”

Vercoe points to the growing support for the elimination of the Electoral College in presidential elections as another indication that voters are recognizing that there are some basic flaws in the system – and that they can do something about it.

For those unclear on the topic, the 16-minute “The Battle For Ranked Choice Voting” lays out the process succinctly, and wittily (there’s some animation involved). Essentially intended to ensure that anyone taking office has support of at least a majority of those people casting ballots, the ranked-choice voting system, as Vercoe says, has been implemented in cities around the country, and has been in place in countries like Ireland and Australia for 100 years or so. It’s not a new or confusing idea, despite what one particular sore loser would have Mainers believe.

“Bruce Poliquin called ranked-choice voting a ‘black box,’ as if it were some confusing, secretive thing,” Vercoe said. “It’s not. A Bates College professor (economics chair Nathan Tefft) showed all the calculations, the actual voting figures are publicly available, and he completely dispelled the notion that there is anything mysterious or unfair about the process at all. I mean, I was able to do the same thing independently – it only takes about 30 to 40 lines of code.”

For Veroce, his film – currently making the film festival rounds (there are no screening dates set yet for Maine) – is a way to inspire discussion (and action) on the way Americans’ voices are represented in their leadership. It’s a discussion, the filmmaker says, he’s not surprised first came to the forefront here in Maine.

“Maine has this real pioneer independent streak,” Vercoe said. “It’s one of the reasons I think it’s done so well here. I really want to thank the citizens of Maine for doing this. It’s incredibly inspirational to people in the movement around the country. You all are in the forefront of this.” He also agrees that Maine’s not-too-distant experience with a non-majority-elected two-term governor prone to racist and divisive statements and policy might have something to do with it, too.

As to the future of ranked-choice voting, Vercoe sees his home state as a logical next adopter.

“This isn’t a partisan issue,” Vercoe said. “Massachusetts has a very strong Democratic Party. There, it’s the GOP that is sort of downtrodden, and so we’re seeing some traction with ranked-choice there, as well.”

Hoping his film brings an awareness of this – what is, to him, a simple and effective way to make sure the people making laws represent the most people – Vercoe said “The Battle for Ranked Choice Voting” is just the beginning.

To learn more about “The Battle for Ranked Choice Voting” (and ranked-choice voting), check out the film’s webpage at http://rcvfilm.com/.

COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

PMA Films

portlandmuseum.org/movies

Starts Friday: “Faces.” In  2010, Iranian director Jafar Panahi was arrested and banned from making any movies by his government. Well, this is his fourth movie since then, an eerily familiar-sounding tale of a young aspiring actress whose thwarted dream of becoming an actress seemingly results in her filmed suicide, an act investigated by Jafar Panahi.

Space Gallery

space538.org

Monday: “Cielo.” You think you know the night sky, city-dweller? Well, come feast your peepers on this visually stunning documentary about the view available only above Chile’s Atacame Desert, one of the least light-polluted places on Earth. Coincidentally, an Earth Day presentation.

 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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