This November, citizens of Westbrook will have a chance to vote on whether or not ranked-choice voting will be implemented for the mayoral, City Council and School Committee races. Westbrook voters should make sure that they understand how the new voting procedure will work. The devil is in the details.

The way ranked-choice voting works for a single open seat with multiple candidates is straightforward. There are many references available online to help one understand how it works.

Now, here’s where the devil makes his appearance: Let us now suppose there is an election where there are multiple seats open and multiple candidates are running. For example, in the recent Portland City Charter Commission at-large race, there were 11 candidates running for four positions.

There are a number of different options for the way ranked-choice deals with races like this. They all have their own wrinkles, and voters need to make sure they understand them.

Continuing with the Portland example, Portland uses a multi-pass instant-runoff voting method. This method produced the following outcome: The leading cumulative vote-getting candidate garnered 22.4 percent of the vote and got elected. The candidate who got the second highest number of popular cumulative votes got 21.1 percent and did not get elected. Yet a candidate who received a mere 4.2 percent of the vote was elected. Democracy in action? I don’t think so.

Citizens of Westbrook, please make sure you understand how your implementation of ranked-choice voting will handle elections this type. Otherwise, you will be giving the devil his due.

Samuel Rosenthal

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