There’s been ongoing fighting over ranked-choice voting in recent years in Maine, with the latest battle focused on the Maine Republican Party’s attempt to overturn its use in presidential elections. Although the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rebuffed Republicans’ efforts to place that issue before voters, the party has decided to press on with its legal challenge, appealing that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s important to note here that even if the Maine Republican Party is successful, the underlying issue isn’t whether ranked-choice voting itself is constitutional, but whether it should be used this year or placed on hold while we vote on the issue yet again. If the legal wrangling and referendum campaigns on ranked-choice voting seem endless, that’s because the fight has been nearly constant since ranked-choice voting was passed by voters in 2016.

That’s unfortunate, because even though ranked-choice voting is a terrible idea that should never have been passed, it’s also not worth the endless fighting. The truth is that, despite grandiose promises from its supporters, ranked-choice voting hasn’t had much actual impact on the outcome of any elections. In all but one case where it was in place, it either didn’t come into play because one candidate got more than 50 percent anyway or it had no impact on the final outcome.

The one exception to that thus far has been the general election in the 2nd Congressional District two years ago, when incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was ahead on the first ballot but ended up losing to Democrat Jared Golden after the votes were re-tabulated. Even in that case, though, there’s an argument to be made that the results wouldn’t have been any different without ranked-choice voting in place. The two independents in the race, Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar, got an unusually high percentage of the vote for virtual unknowns with little money. Without ranked-choice voting, voters might not have been as willing to vote for them at all, and many of their supporters might have simply voted for Golden in the first place. Moreover, if ranked-choice voting hadn’t been implemented, one or both of them might have chosen not to run, or withdrawn from the race before Election Day. It’s hard to imagine that the results in the first round would have been identical had ranked-choice voting not been in place.

So, ranked-choice voting has thus far been a largely ineffective waste of time and money, and that will likely to continue to be the case this year. Indeed, it already has been in one case: During this year’s 2nd District Republican primary, the state still ran the ranked-choice tabulation even though Dale Crafts’ opponents conceded on election night. That’s an example of an area of the law that could use tweaking; it seems ridiculous to have to re-tabulate the votes when all of the losing candidates have already conceded.

The latest Republican effort to halt implementation of ranked-choice voting, however, appears clearly aimed at helping one candidate: the incumbent president, Donald Trump. That’s clear not only because the people’s veto would halt its use only in presidential elections, but also because it would put ranked-choice voting on pause for just this year’s presidential race.

This might have mattered four years ago, when neither Hillary Clinton nor Trump won more than 50 percent of the vote statewide. Back then, ranked-choice voting would have come into play, but it would have been unlikely to change the outcome. Since most of Green candidate Jill Stein’s voters would probably have ranked Clinton second, Trump would’ve needed to get almost all of Libertarian Gary Johnson’s votes on the second round – an uncertain prospect at best.

This year, Republicans are probably mainly concerned with retaining the one Electoral College vote in Maine’s 2nd District. That’s certainly understandable: Most public polls have given Democrat Joe Biden the lead in the 2nd District, but only one has shown him above 50 percent. What’s less understandable is why Trump’s forces are so keen to put the kibosh on ranked-choice voting being used.

With the country even more polarized than four years ago, minor-party candidates will probably be a less significant factor, even in Maine. Rather than putting so much energy into fighting ranked-choice voting, the Maine Republican Party should have just focused on supporting their candidates. That would have been a far better use of time and resources than continuing an endless battle over ranked-choice voting. So-called “electoral reforms” like ranked-choice voting might be largely irrelevant feel-good measures, but once they’re enacted, repealing them becomes exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins.
He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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