Press Herald Editor: Ranked Choice Isn’t Confusing–It’s the Smart Choice for Maine

This week, Portland Press Herald’s column editor Greg Kesich dispelled the confusion about Maine’s ranked choice voting “on-again, off-again referendum,” which will be back on the June ballot.

Contrary to the opposition’s messaging, Kesish says, the referendum is neither confusing to voters nor a way to make winners out of losing candidates. In fact, he notes that the legislative process itself has been convoluted. Kesich writes:

Here’s how it works: In races with more than two candidates, voters pick their favorite as they always have, and then – if they want – they can pick a second favorite, and if they haven’t run out of candidates, they can pick a third, and so on. Voters rank as many or as few as they like.

The first-place votes are counted and if someone gets a majority (50 percent plus one vote), the election is over and the candidate wins. If the leader falls short of 50 percent, the last place candidate is eliminated and his second place votes are distributed to the candidates still in the race. The votes are counted again and if there is still no majority the process continues.

It’s basically a series of runoffs, but instead of having to keep coming back for another election, you cast all your votes at once.

Opponents have called the referendum unconstitutional, to which Kesich responds “sort of.”

There are some elections, such as U.S. House and Senate, that ranked choice could be used as the Maine Constitution is written. Currently, state elections for governor and legislature must be decided by a plurality–which was added to the constitution 50 years after it’s original ratification.

Kesich makes the point that the constitution could be amended again; however, the legislators chose not to send a constitutional amendment to the people for approval.

Another claim against ranked choice is that it will “throw out your vote” when your first choice candidate doesn’t win in the series of runoffs. Which, as Kesich explains, is actually just called “voting for a candidate who lost.”

Finally, opponents allege that the referendum was brought to hurt Maine Governor Paul LePage, who barely won with 40% of the vote in 2010. The independent candidate, Eliot Cutler, gained Democratic support from those who saw him as the most likely to beat LePage, over Democrat Libby Mitchell.

However, after examining his contenders, Kesich determines “it seems likely that LePage could have been the beneficiary of ranked-choice voting instead of its victim.”

Kesich writes:

What we have instead with ranked-choice voting is a system that would benefit a candidate who has broad appeal across a range of constituencies. Without it, we have a system in which a candidate with strong support from a passionate minority could steal an election.

Which will we choose? It’s as simple as that.

Will the referendum pass, again, on the June 12 Maine primary?