Portland voters overwhelmingly decided Tuesday to expand the use of ranked-choice voting to all City Council and school board races.

The proposal passed with 81 percent of the votes cast in all 12 precincts, with 19,766 votes in favor and 4,564 against.

The voting method has been used to elect the city’s mayor since 2011 and was used last year for the first time to decide state legislative and gubernatorial primaries.

“I’m glad to see Portland voters continue to support the expansion of ranked-choice voting by large margins,” Anna Kellar, spokesperson for Fair Elections Portland, said in a written statement. “Portland was the first city in Maine to use ranked-choice voting, and now we can finally say that all of our elected officials will represent the choice of the majority of the voters. This is a good day for democracy in Portland.”

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.

In Portland, two 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.

The results of Portland’s first ranked-choice vote in 2011 weren’t known until the following night to allow time for the redistribution of votes. But the process has been streamlined since then and last year’s instant run-off was conducted and a winner declared on election night.

Expanding ranked-choice voting can change the dynamic of races with more than two candidates, even if it doesn’t change the outcome.

The method of voting ensures that the winner is chosen by a majority of the people casting ballots, eliminates vote-splitting and the need for strategic voting, and discourages negative campaigning, supporters said.

Last year, five candidates sought an open seat representing District 3 on the City Council. Tae Chong won decisively without earning a majority, although 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, earning 44 percent of the vote.

The campaign for expanded ranked-choice voting was relatively low key. The most recent campaign finance filing from Fair Elections Portland says the group had nearly $4,120 to invest in the campaign.

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

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 primaries and general elections beginning in 2024.

 


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