The “Race to the White House” show is coming to Maine on March 3, and we all get to play pundit.

If you are a Bernie Sanders supporter, it’s easy. Your guy is the national front-runner and the odds-on favorite to go to the convention in Milwaukee with the most delegates. You just need to show up and vote.

But if you are thinking about one of the other candidates, it’s a little more complicated. Like, what do you do if you think Elizabeth Warren would be the best president, but you also like Sanders’ positions on most issues? Do you vote for her, even if that would split the progressive bloc? Or do you swallow hard and vote for Sanders because he has the best chance to win and advance the causes you care about?

It’s more complicated if you want a moderate nominee because you think that would be the best way to win in November. You have four choices: Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. To pick the most electable one, all you have to do is read the minds of all of your fellow citizens and determine which candidate is the best to take on Donald Trump. You just have to hope that all of your fellow home-pundits make the same calculation and you don’t end up splitting your moderate votes four ways.

In Maine, we have a solution that allows us to be people and not pundits in the voting booth – it’s called “ranked-choice voting.”

Unfortunately, Maine voters will not be allowed to use it in this primary. 

Why not? It’s a long story. The Legislature passed a bill that applied ranked-choice voting to presidential primaries and elections, but, because of a procedural snafu, legislators failed to fund it. Gov. Mills let the bill become law without her signature, which meant it wouldn’t take effect until after the primary.

(The November presidential election is supposed to use ranked-choice ballots – unless Republicans gather enough signatures for a people’s veto, which would hold the law in abeyance while Maine voters are asked to approve the system for a third time.)

But a multi-candidate primary is the perfect time for ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to express preferences among the other candidates in the field if their favorite can’t win.

The effect that ranked-choice voting has on picking the winner rightly gets the most attention. But it can also play an important role in a primary even if the nominal winner stays on top.

How? Take a look at California, another state that votes March 3. California will send 416 pledged delegates to the Democratic convention, almost 20 percent of the total needed for to win the nomination, which are proportionally distributed among the candidates who get 15 percent or more of the vote.

California is a big state with a lot of diverse interests that should be heard in the nomination process. But with a field this large and no ranked-choice voting, very few of these candidates will reach the threshold.

What if the Super Tuesday results look like a recent poll by the Public Policy Information Center, which showed Sanders leading with 32 percent of the vote and all of the other contenders out of the money? He would take all of the state’s delegates to Milwaukee.

If you are a Californian, you could look at this two ways. One: Good for Bernie! Four years of outreach to young Latino voters would appear to have paid off.

But you might also be concerned that the state’s only voice at the nominating convention will go to a candidate who had slightly less than a third of the vote. Ranked-choice voting could push a few other candidates above 15 percent by consolidating their votes, bringing more perspectives to the process.

There are other ways it would be beneficial.

The Maine Democratic ballot will not just have the names of the six candidates you saw on the debate stage in Nevada last week.

Cory Booker, Deval Patrick, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang, candidates who qualified for the ballot but have since dropped out of the race, are also on the ballot. If we had ranked-choice voting, their supporters would be given a chance to express a preference among the other contenders.

But the biggest benefit of ranked-choice voting in a primary is that it leaves punditry to the pundits, letting people vote for who they want without worrying about what anyone else might do.

Maine led the nation in passing ranked-choice voting. It’s a shame we won’t be able to use it now.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.