Voters at the Woodfords Club in Portland cast their ballots Tuesday. In addition to the presidential primary, Portland voters weighed in on referendums about vaccination requirements and ranked choice voting. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — A citizens referendum to bring the ranked choice voting system for municipal and school elections has passed definitively in the city.

With the support of more than 80 percent of the voters Tuesday, ranked choice voting will now be used to elect candidates for City Council and school board. The city has used ranked choice voting to elect a mayor since 2011.

“I’m glad to see Portland voters continue to support the expansion of ranked choice voting by large margins. 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,”  said Anna Kellar, spokesperson for Fair Elections Portland, which spearheaded the effort to broaden Portland’s use of ranked choice voting.

“This is a good day for democracy in Portland,” Kellar said.

With ranked choice voting, in a three-way race for example, voters rank their first-, second- and third-place choices. Votes are counted until one person has more than 50% of the vote. If no one receives more than 50%, the person with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and the second-choice votes on those ballots are counted. The process continues until a candidate receives more than 50%.

Tim Brooks, one of the 19,766 voters Tuesday who supported the question, said he felt it was important that the person elected to a council or school board seat has support from the majority of voters.

“Two elections in a row, we had a governor that didn’t get the majority of votes. Had we had ranked choice voting, we would have had different results,” Brooks said referring to governor’s races of 2010, when Paul LePage won the job with 37.6% of the vote,  and 2014 when LePage was re-elected with 48.2%.

The line to check in to vote snaked outside the Woodfords Club in Portland on Super Tuesday, when Democrats in 14 states cast their ballots on who they want to represent their party in the November presidential election. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Dana Hopkins, another ranked-choice voting supporter, said she’d like to see the  system used on a national level because “it allows for a broader consensus for the people.”

The system was introduced statewide in 2018 for in elections for governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives and is scheduled to be used for the presidential election in 2024.

Hopkins said the system “allows people to vote their conscience, but also compromise a little and that appeals to me.”

Phil Rotolo is less convinced the system should be applied to local elections and was one of the 4,564 voters who voted down the measure. He did so, he said, in part because because of how ranked choice voting played out in previous mayoral elections.

“I didn’t like the results of the previous ranked choice voting. I won’t mention names, but I don’t think it came out right at least from my standpoint,” he said.

Results aside, Rotolo said the system can be complicated to explain and understand, especially for new voters or voters new to Portland.

The system may have to be tweaked between now and 2022, when two at-large Portland school board seats will be on the ballot. Historically in those races, the candidates with the two highest vote totals win the seats, something that ranked-choice voting wouldn’t allow.

Portland voters, like those across the state, overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of an immunization law that removes religious and philosophical exemptions to immunization requirements for students of schools and colleges in Maine and for employees of nursery schools and health care facilities.

More than 86 percent, or 21,421 voters no on Question 1, opting to maintain the law as it was passed and allow only medical exemptions for vaccination requirements. Just under 14 percent, or 3,456 voters, sought to maintain the right to not vaccinate based on religious and philosophical reasoning.

Democrats in Portland on Tuesday also chose who they want to see on the presidential ballot in November. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont won in the city with 8,375 votes, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden with 4,742; U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, 4,647; and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 1,314.

With results from 81 percent of Maine’s polling locations in as of early Wednesday morning, Biden was leading Sanders in the4 state by just 1,345 votes.

President Donald J. Trump was the only Republican presidential candidate on the ballot.

 

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