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.

Ranking the Democratic Candidates

Here in Maine, we are going to be using Ranked Choice Voting in the primaries on June 12, and there are seven Democratic candidates running. That means, that with the always-available Write In slot, we can rank up to eight candidates. I am ranking five. Two weeks ago, I was only planning on ranking four. So who am I voting for and why? Let me start with who I am NOT voting for.

I am NOT voting for Donna Dion. While she received enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, she tried and failed to qualify for Maine’s Clean Election funding, which shows a lack of broad support, or a lack of organization or both. I had seen her gathering signatures for her petition to be on the ballot, in person.  I have never seen anyone collecting signatures on her behalf, which again points to either a lack of support or organization, or both. Since she failed to qualify for Clean Elections financing, I had tried to find a campaign contribution site for her as part of gathering that info for ALL of the Democratic candidates for all positions that include Biddeford, and failed. When I attempted to reach out to her campaign to get this info directly, it took a week and a half to get a response, and it came from her directly, not from a staffer (again, lack of support and/or organization), and she does not have one. She takes cash or checks only through a PO Box. I am not voting for her because she doesn’t stand a chance, and has not shown any ability to even run an effective campaign, I am not going to trust her with the State government.

I am NOT voting for Janet Mills. I think overall she’s doing a good job as Attorney General, but that is a very different job. She has been able to block some of LePage’s bad policies. She has been able to work around some others (using a court awarded windfall to buy and distribute Narcam to multiple police departments after LePage kept blocking the availability through health care), using her discretion to decline to defend LePage’s policies in court, etc. However, she has also used her discretion badly.

She has been fighting to prevent the Penobscot Nation’s water rights to the river of the same name. Water rights codified and guaranteed in their Treaty with the United States. When she failed to block those rights, she has sued the EPA to loosen water protection laws as it pertains to one specific river, the Penobscot, which has the effect of denying the Penobscot peoples from using the river for sustenance because the water would then be too polluted to be usable. Janet Mills then joined in on a similar lawsuit in Washington State that has the same effect to a Native People there.

While she currently has a failing grade with the NRA, at one time she did have an A+ rating with them during her time in the State Legislature for voting down common sense gun laws that are again in the national consciousness after multiple mass shootings at schools and public venues.

(I am not going to address gun issues elsewhere in this column as everyone else is straight-forward in supporting common-sense gun legislation while still supporting gun rights in general.)

So, on to those that I AM going to rank.

In fifth place, Diana Russell. Honestly, one of the main reasons I’m ranking her at all is due to her work to get RCV a reality, even sacrificing time and energy from her Gubernatorial campaigning to fight to get the Citizen’s Veto on the ballot to restore RCV after the Legislature tried to kill it, then defending it in multiple lawsuits by the GOP. However, from what I have seen of her, she is a better activist than administrator. She was elected to the Legislature previously on an activist agenda, and from what I can tell, didn’t accomplish much. Her campaign now is one of an populist activist that is destined to be fighting the Legislature rather than working with it to accomplish even common goals. And she has now run into a couple minor campaign finance violations, one may have been a legitimate error, but the other is a definite should-have-known-better issue.

In fourth place is Mark Dion. I was going to leave him out until a couple weeks ago when I finally had the chance to hear him speak, just him not part of a panel discussion/debate. Former police officer, former Sheriff of Cumberland County, former State Rep, current State Senator. He is definitely more on the Conservative side of the party, but still, his Law And Order stance is tempered in a big way by basic Humanity. His law enforcement career has always had the focus of helping and working with the community. He helped setup community centers to get kids and others on the edge off the streets and into productive activities. Prevention, rather than clean-up.

Slots one, two and three, however, keep shifting, and mostly because of Adam Cote.

Last Summer, Adam Cote wasn’t even on my list, then over the winter as I heard more of and from him, he slowly moved up my list to number one, but now has slipped back down to two or three. Army vet, very involved in Clean Energy both in and out of uniform. He created and ran a company that dealt with assisting with making clean energy policy around the world.  But of all the candidates, he seems to be in a feud with Mills, with both of them twisting facts about the other. As noted above, I’m not voting for Mills anyway. So this is a bit of a knock down, but as it’s the only thing I have against him, he’s still on the list.

Probably my number one pick now is Mark Eves. Former family councilor, former State Rep, former Maine Speaker Of The House. In that position doing his job, he earned the ire of Gov LePage who used his bully pulpit to block an unrelated job offer to Eves when Eves got term-limited out of the House. Of those I’m ranking, Eves has the most experience in Maine State Government leadership. Mark Dion may have more time based experience, but not as high, which in my opinion gives him an edge on how to get things done, and get them done right.

Which leaves Betsy Sweet in positions two or three. She hasn’t worked IN the State government, but has worked WITH the government for decades on multiple issues and topics. She is also one of two Democratic candidates that applied for Clean Elections funding and the only one to qualify. I think that for me, Eves nudges above her only on the basis of in-government experience.