A picture can reveal what a thousand words often miss altogether. On Sept. 14, there appeared a picture in The Times Record of the election season’s first U.S. Senate debate that took place on Sept. 11. There are four candidates in the race. The race is run for the first time in U.S. Senate history by the new rules of Ranked Choice Voting.

But just two candidates are shown standing at their lecterns: Republican incumbent Susan Collins and Democrat Sarah Gideon. The two independents, Lisa Savage and Max Linn, were also very much in the debate, also standing at their lecterns. But they did not appear in the photograph.

This is at best discourteous. More that, in a crucial race it suppresses relevant information. In addition, it seems to highlight a major mistake still made by many in the media and thus also among the public–wedded to the old “winner take all” (or first past the post) rules. Because of this, it has become an unfortunate habit to discount the presence of so-called minor candidates.

By the old rules all you had to do was come in first by beating everyone else—by any percentage of the total vote. But with new rules of RCV, your percentage must reach at least 50%. Victory comes by majority, not plurality.

Getting 50% by yourself is very unlikely and probably impossible. There are just not enough votes available when more than the top two are in the race—each one neck and neck with the other.

Gideon and Collins may flail at each other all they want, spending thunderous amounts of money. Of itself that doesn’t cut it. In fact, each one’s rampant spending goes into ads that merely counter those of the other. No net gain! They cancel each other out.

Far better to come down to earth. Gideon needs the second place preferences on the ballots of one or more of the other candidates. So does Collins. So do Savage and Linn.

One can confidently predict there will be no more insulting cropping of Lisa Savage’s and Max Linn’s pictures from news stories.

It is no longer a horse race as in a plurality election, but more like a relay race. To Gideon and Collins: You can only build victory by building it with the help of voters of one or more of the other candidates. Competitive debate is a wise course to pursue, not heaping slander on the other with half-baked attacks and massive, pointless spending.

Lisa Savage and Max Linn are brokers in the race. That in itself makes them a power to deal with. Furthermore, given the workings of RCV and given the surge in her standings, Savage may herself have a long-shot chance of becoming our next Senator. Something to keep in mind.

John Rensenbrink is a professor emeritus at Bowdoin College and co-founder U.S. and Maine Green parties. He lives in Topsham.


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