Councilor Claude Rwaganje said he supports ranked-choice voting because it would help legitimize elections with multiple candidates. Screenshot / Westbrook Community TV

A proposal to extend ranked-choice voting to municipal elections received mixed reviews Monday from the Westbrook City Council, which put off further discussion with the hope of receiving more public input.

Councilors raised concerns about a lack of voter initiative behind making the change as well as additional costs. Only one member of the public commented at the meeting.

The idea of using ranked-choice voting in elections for mayor, City Council and School Committee was broached earlier this month by Councilor David Morse, who noted that Westbrook residents previously voted in favor of it for federal and state elections. He said he thinks it would make voters feel more invested in elections and city leadership.

Councilor Anna Turcotte said Monday she was concerned about the additional costs, potentially an additional $30,000 per election, and that voters themselves weren’t driving the request to make the change. Her comments were echoed by Mayor Mike Foley, who said a citizen-led referendum on ranked-choice voting would be ideal.

“It is up to the voter to decide if they really want this,” Turcotte said.

Councilor Claude Rwaganje said ranked-choice ballots in local races would give voters confidence that a winner truly has the most support and didn’t win without a majority of voters. Councilor Mike Shaughnessy also said he supports the change, but he wants voters to decide whether to make it.

Councilor Victor Chau said he felt ranked-choice voting could be too complicated for voters.

“Sounds hard to explain to the public,” Chau said. “There are a lot of constituents I talk to that understand on the ballot you pick the best name. Picking and ranking is kind of complicated. People will get ranked choice and treat it normally.”

Using ranked-choice voting, voters may rank the candidates in the order they prefer. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the popular vote, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and that candidate’s supporters’ second choices are then counted. The process continues until one candidate gets more than 50%.

Ranked-choice voting would have been applicable in four elections between 2013 and 2019, including two mayoral races, according to City Clerk Angela Holmes.

The League of Women Voters of Maine supports ranked-choice voting at the local level, said Executive Director Anna Keller, the sole commenter at the meeting.

Most voters passively support ranked-choice voting and understand it, Keller said, but they won’t take action on it themselves.

“We take seriously the concern that a new system could be confusing or reduce turnout, but what we’ve seen over the last decade is yes, there is a segment who doesn’t like it, but also some who love it,” Keller said. “We found that in Portland, most people were into it when asked. If it had been up to purely volunteers, they wouldn’t have done it because a citizen-initiated charter amendment is hard.”

The League of Women Voters has 12 Westbrook members.

Council President Gary Rairdon said ranked-choice voting is not “what the founding fathers wanted.” He prefers to vote for one candidate, he said, and when presented with a ranked-choice ballot, he still votes for only one candidate per race.

“We don’t have political affiliations on our ballot, you do research and get to know the candidate. I will not support this to go to the City Council,” Rairdon said. “I have not heard from anyone from my ward about this.”

Ranked-choice voting will come up at a future City Council meeting with public comment, date to be determined.

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