RCV in Maine

Ranked Choice Voting. What a sticky issue.

Initially, I was all for this. After all, since 1974, only twice has a Gubernatorial Candidate in Maine won with an actual majority of votes rather than a mere plurality, and both times it was the incumbent’s reelection:

  • 1974: James Longley (I)  39.7%
  • 1978: Joseph Brennan (D) 47.8%
  • 1982: Joseph Brennan (D) 61.9%
  • 1986: John McKernan (R) 39.9%
  • 1990: John McKernan (R) 46.7%
  • 1994: Angus King (I) 35.4%
  • 1998: Angus king (I) 58.6%
  • 2002: John Baldacci (D) 47.2%
  • 2006: John Baldacci (D) 38.1%
  • 2010: Paul LePage (R) 37.6%
  • 2014: Paul LePage (R) 48.2%

There are many reasons for this, not all of them due to political polarization between the Left and Right, as this trend has been going on for decades, during times of cooperation and freeze-outs between the Left and Right. A large cause of this is Maine’s tradition of Independent or Unenrolled candidates. It is not uncommon for there to be multiple Independent candidates for elected positions up and down the ballot, so even after primaries, since Independent candidates pretty much by definition do not have primaries, there can be three, four, five or even more candidates on the General Election. So it’s the outlier that can get an actual majority rather than the norm.

And the lack of majority support is a problem. When someone gets elected with a mere plurality, there WILL be lots of contention between that person and the majority of the people, who did not vote for them. This needs to be fixed.

Ranked Choice Voting is a way to do this. But even though we are using it in the primaries on June 12, and depending on the outcome of Question 1, may use it for some positions on the ballot in November. We’d be using it for US Senate and US House seats, it will NOT be used for Governor due to a 19th century Amendment to the Maine Constitution that specifies that State positions are to be decided by Plurality Vote.

I was initially all in favor of RCV as the way to fix this. After all, it’s an instant run-off method of voting. If your preferred candidate came in last, they are eliminated and your second choice then gets your vote. Lather, rinse, repeat until one candidate gets that 50%+1 vote magic number. Faster and cheaper than having run-off elections to accomplish the same thing. Perfect!

Then I started listening to people who’s opinions I trust who are opposed to this. Most of them aren’t opposed to it because they prefer the plurality method. They are mostly opposed to it because RCV itself can skew the results away from a true majority pick. Consider the Senate race. Two Independents, a Democrat and a Republican.

As a Democrat, I am going to rank the candidates Democrat, then Independent 1, Independent 2. And not rank the Republican at all. The Republican candidate is going to rank the Republican first and the Democrat not at all. They will probably rank the two Independents the same way as me and for the same reason: Independent 1 is the one we know and is better than the other party, Independent 2 is better than the other party. The Independent voter will likely vote Independent 1 first as he’s the known candidate not affiliated with either party, then it’s a coin toss for the rest, depending on the stance of Independent 2 and the voter’s left/right general leaning.

That is, assuming that all voters even rank more than one candidate. If Voter 3 only ranked one candidate and that candidate gets eliminated, then that voter has less say than Voter 1 who ranked all candidates.

Conversely, if Voter 1 ranked all candidates and their number 1 rank makes it all the way, then they too have less say because they did not get any input in the elimination rounds. Dose that matter? Yes. Because when factored in with the lack of ranking Voter 3 did, the final runoff may have had a different set of candidates, and thus maybe a different outcome as each lowest-ranked candidate is eliminated.

I am still voting YES on Question 1 to Veto the Legislature’s attempt to delay-and-repeal RCV in Maine. But only because it’s better than what we have now, not because I think it’s the answer.

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