Jason Hanson, left, and Michael Mowat cast their ballots Tuesday at the Westbrook Community Center. Voters approved, 2,819 to 1,660, using ranked-choice voting in local elections. Chance Viles / American Journal

Westbrook will be the second city in the state with a municipal ranked-choice voting system in place after 63% of voters Tuesday approved it approved it 2,819 to 1,660.

The voting system will be used in contested races with three or more candidates for City Council, School Committee and mayoral races when no candidate has won more than 50% of the vote. Westbrook joins Portland in using the system for local elections.

Voters will have the option of ranking the candidates in the order they prefer. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the popular vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and that candidate’s supporters’ second choices are then counted. The process continues until one candidate receives more than 50%. A candidate in Westbrook wins when they hit a certain threshold of votes, 50% plus one.

Residents at the polls who spoke with the American Journal were split on the issue.

“It’s not as confusing as it is made to be. It’s not rocket science and I support it,”  Jason Hanson said.

Bob Theriault agreed, saying it just “makes sense.”

“It makes sure the majority of voters actually support the candidate,”  he said.

“I think it makes an efficient process, and it can be confusing, but once you do it it works,” Martha O’Connor said.

Dave Brackett, however, said he didn’t think ranked-choice voting was a good fit for the city or the state, and that it can be a tool used by Democrats to “steal elections.”

“It should be one vote, one person. Vote for your candidate and move along,” he said.

Rodger Beesley said ranked-choice voting is “foolish.”

“It’s a way for whiny babies who had lost to get another chance,” Beesley said. “Voting is out of control.”

The League of Women Voters Maine said Westbrook voters’ approval of local ranked-choice voting was a win for democracy.

“In the 2016 and 2017 mayoral races, there were four candidates each year, and none of them received a majority of the vote. Had RCV been used and implemented, the tabulation would have resulted in a winning candidate that represented the will of the majority,” Executive Director Anna Kellar said in a press release.

Ranked-choice voting comes with an additional cost of $25,000-$30,000 per election, including the contract company’s fee for tallying the ranked-choice votes, according to City Clerk Angela Holmes. Westbrook would use the same software used by the state and Portland.

The City Council voted unanimously Aug. 3 to put the referendum on the ballot, with Councilors Gary Rairdon and Elliot Storey absent. Previously, Rairdon and Storey had been critical of municipal ranked-choice voting, with Rairdon saying he preferred a “one-vote” system.

Data going back to 2013 shows that ranked-choice voting would have been used, if available, in four Westbrook races: for Ward 4 councilor in 2013, mayor in 2016 and 2019, and councilor at-large in 2019, Holmes has said previously.

Westbrook voters were in favor of using ranked-choice voting in federal and state elections during Maine’s 2016 referendum, 5,657 to 3,958.

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