Portland voters on March 3 will have the opportunity to expand ranked-choice voting, which has been used in the city’s mayoral elections since 2011, to all City Council and school board races.

Councilors voted late last year to place the charter amendment on the March ballot, after the Fair Elections Portland campaign failed to gather enough valid signatures from registered voters to place it on the November ballot.

“Ranked Choice Voting allows us to ensure a winning candidate has the support of the majority of voters, even in a crowded field, like last November’s District 3 Council race,” Anna Kellar, spokesperson for Fair Elections Portland, said in a statement. “Portland voters have embraced RCV for Mayor, state, and federal offices. More than 6,000 voters signed a petition last summer to expand RCV to City Council and School Board.”

It’s the only question on the municipal ballot. But voters will also be heading to the polls to cast ballots in the presidential primary and a statewide effort to overturn a bill enacted last year removing philosophical and religious exemptions from vaccinations.

The success of the ranked-choice voting initiative hinges not only on whether it receives a plurality of support. It also depends on voter turnout, which should be aided by the presidential primary and the people’s veto.

At least 30 percent of voters who cast ballots in the previous gubernatorial election need to cast ballots on the charter amendment for it to be valid. City Clerk Katherine Jones said at least 9,982 voters need to cast a municipal ballot for it to take effect.


“Voter turnout is crucial,” Kellar said. “We hope that independents and Greens, as well as Democrat and Republican voters, will turn out for RCV.”

Ranked-choice voting 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 his or her ballots are redistributed to the other candidates based on the second or third choices. That instant-runoff process continues until one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes.

So far, there hasn’t been much of a public campaign on either side of the issue.

The most recent filing from Fair Elections Portland says the group had nearly $4,120 to invest in the campaign. Kellar said the group is putting up signs and using social media to increase turnout.

No group has registered as a ballot question committee or a political action committee to oppose the initiative. But the Maine Republican Party is continuing to challenge it.


Democrat Jared Golden unseated Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a ranked-choice election two years ago in the 2nd District. Poliquin came in first after the initial count, but Golden earned a majority of votes as the second- and third-place votes of two independent challengers were reallocated. That result withstood a federal legal challenge in 2018.

The Maine Republican Party announced on Feb. 4 that it had launched a petition drive to put a question on the November ballot asking voters to repeal the law that extends ranked-choice voting to presidential elections.

Voters have twice supported ranked-choice voting in Maine, approving the initial law at the ballot box in 2016 and then voting to overturn a legislative repeal in 2018.

Republicans will have 90 days from the legislative session’s end, likely in April or May, to gather the 63,607 signatures needed to put the repeal question on the November ballot. A previous petition drive in 2015 did not result in enough signatures to force a vote.

If the repeal effort fails, ranked-choice voting would be used in the presidential primary beginning in 2024.

In Portland, two out of three mayoral elections have been decided in an instant runoff, but in both cases, the candidate who placed first after the initial round ended up winning the election.

Last year, five candidates sought an open seat representing District 3 on the City Council. Tae Chong won decisively without earning a majority, though he did earn 43 percent of the vote in a five-way race.

It’s unclear what impact ranked-choice voting would have had in that race, or a three-way race for an at large seat in 2017. Incumbent Jill Duson edged out two more progressive candidates by earning 44 percent of the vote.

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