Portland just elected a new mayor in a ranked-choice election, the only municipal-level contest in Maine that allows voters to rate all the candidates in order of preference.

Now the city may go all in and expand the voting process to City Council and Board of Education races.

The Portland City Council on Monday is expected to set an election date to ask voters if they want to amend the city’s charter to use ranked-choice ballots in all local races. The proposal, also supported by a recent petition initiative, is expected to go to voters. But it’s not clear how soon.

Councilors will consider two potential dates: the March 3 presidential primary or June 9, when residents will decide whether to create a charter commission and vote on the school budget.

City Clerk Katherine Jones is asking the council to hold the charter amendment referendum in June, citing historically low voter turnout for the March primary. She said holding a municipal election in March would cost the city $12,000.

“The City Clerk’s office has no budget for the March Primary Election,” Jones said in a memo. “If this item were on the March election, we would have the added expense of ballots and programming of the election tabulators, roughly $12,000.”


Ranked-choice voting has been used in the city’s mayoral election since 2011. The voting method was extended by the Legislature to statewide primaries and federal races last year.

In a ranked-choice election, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes, the last-place candidate is eliminated and their ballots are redistributed to the other candidates based on the second or third choices. That process continues until one candidate gets a majority.

On Nov. 5, the city’s four-way mayoral race was decided by ranked-choice voting and an instant runoff, but the five-way race for the District 3 seat was not.

The original order of Portland’s mayoral race did not change after two instant runoffs. Kathleen Snyder was first after the first round with 39 percent of of the 18,275 votes cast, followed by City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau with 28 percent, incumbent Ethan Strimling at 25 percent and political newcomer Travis Curran with 7 percent. Synder prevailed after two instant runoffs, earning nearly 62 percent of the 16,902 ballots that were ranked deep enough to be included in the final tally.

Of Strimling’s 5,155 voters, 1,104 ballots did not include a ranking for either Snyder or Thibodeau.

No candidate secured a majority of votes in the District 3 race, which was decided by a plurality. Tae Chong won that race with 43 percent of the vote.


Councilors agreed to put forward a referendum to expand ranked-choice voting to all city races after a citizen group, Fair Elections Portland, failed to gather enough signatures from registered voters to place it on the ballot.

“We just had five candidates running for a city council district, so it’s easy to understand why ranked-choice voting makes sense for Portland,” said Anna Kellar of Fair Elections Portland. “I’m glad the council is moving ahead so Portland voters will have a chance to vote for RCV when they go to the polls in March.”

Fair Elections Portland also sought to create the state’s first municipal clean elections program, which would provide public financing for elections for candidates who agree to limit private contributions. The group considered the program a minor change, or an amendment, to the city charter that could be enacted with a citywide vote. But they also requested that the city ask voters to create a charter commission in the event the proposal was a substantial change, or a revision.

Although the group secured enough signatures to place that question on the ballot, the city attorney later ruled that such an initiative would constitute a significant change, or a revision, to the city charter, since it would require the council to fund the program. Significant changes require the city to go through a lengthy process, including establishing a Charter Commission.

Once established, a Charter Commission could propose changes to any part of the city’s founding document, including whether to strengthen or eliminate the elected mayor’s position.

Voters will be asked in June whether they want to establish a Charter Commission, since it was listed on Fair Election Portland’s original petition request.

Fair Elections Portland sued the city over its ruling that the program would require a Charter Commission. The case is still pending.

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