Independents Made the Difference in Maine’s Ranked Choice Voting

AUGUSTA, ME — Several ballots are still being counted for Maine’s June 12 primary election, but what is clear is Question 1 to protect ranked choice voting won a decisive victory, despite the political establishment’s efforts to kill the reform

The historic significance of this win cannot be understated and is much broader than many realize:

  • It’s clear independent voters are the driving force behind voter-centric election reform.
  • Maine voters led the ranked choice voting reform, despite actions by state lawmakers to delay and repeal it, and opposition from an anti-reform governor.
  • Voter-led election reforms like ranked choice voting are now being elevated by mainstream media coverage that long overlooked and even ignored such reform efforts.

Something big is happening, and it is likely to go well beyond Maine.

Maine is a closed primary state, which means voters have to be registered with a party to participate in elections that decide party nominations. However, for Question 1, independents were allowed to participate.

Hard data is not yet available from the secretary of state’s office. However, looking at the election results, one could easily come to the conclusion that independents made a big difference for Question 1.

Source: The New York Times

The vote count (with 90% of precincts reporting) shows that approximately 50,000 more people voted on Question 1 than for governor. This is significant because this means a huge segment of the primary turnout did not participate in either party’s top-ticket races.

They did, however, have an interest in the fate of ranked choice voting. It stands to reason, looking at the current numbers available, that independents were, in fact, the deciding factor in the outcome of Question 1.

The vote count (with 90% of precincts reporting) shows that approximately 50,000 more people voted on Question 1 than for governor.

It wouldn’t be a surprise, either. Maine’s independent streak (among voters, anyway) is not new.

Independents make up 36.5% of active registered voters in the state. Voters have elected independents for governor, US Senate, and state legislative seats. Voters have also approved ballot initiatives to take on partisan establishment politics — including Clean Elections funding and ranked choice voting.

Now, it seems the independent streak continues. Tens of thousands of voters showed up to the polls on June 12 just to send the political establishment a strong message: Don’t tread on our rights.

Maine’s ranked choice voting law has not had an easy road to implementation. This is due to state politicians who have actively worked to deny voters their constitutional right to legislate at the ballot box.

State lawmakers passed a law in October that would delay implementation of the voter-approved ranked choice voting law until December 2021. If the constitution was not amended to address the plurality clause for state general elections, RCV would be repealed completely.

In other words: Politicians set RCV up to die. Yet Maine voters fought back.

Tens of thousands of citizens called their lawmakers, wrote letters to the editor, showed up to committee hearings, and rallied in front of the state capitol to try to sway legislators. When politicians ignored them, the people mobilized again to overturn to actions of the legislature, braving one of Maine’s harshest winters on record to get a people’s veto on the ballot.

This was a campaign led by Maine voters who were and continue to be fed up with the partisan political establishment.

No matter where state politicians turned to stop RCV: the legislature, the courts, the airwaves, the people were emboldened more to stand up for the initiative they campaigned, rallied, and voted for. And chances are, tactics like Governor LePage threatening not to certify the results, motivated even more voters to come out to the polls — even people who may not regularly vote in primary elections.

(By the way, with regards to the governor’s threat, a spokesperson from the Maine secretary of state’s office told me the state constitution was clear — “the governor ‘shall‘ make the public proclamation, rather than ‘may’ make the proclamation.”)

There are more people now interested in voter-centric and voter-led election reform than ever before, and this has caught the attention of the mainstream media. Look at the news coverage on Maine:

Source: The Economist
Source: New York Times
Source: CNN.com
Source: Slate

I have been covering election reform for six years, and when I started, this type of coverage from the mainstream media didn’t exist.

This was a campaign led by Maine voters who were and continue to be fed up with the partisan political establishment.

But as the political winds shift, and the independent and political reform movements grow even larger (and more organized), the mainstream media can no longer ignore these efforts — because they are “groundbreaking” and “game-changing.” Voters are revolting against the two-party establishment and winning.

And the more coverage voter-led reform receives, the more interest there is in it. Suddenly, people want to know more about the reform options out there, who is leading these efforts, and how they can get involved.

The more people know about voter-led reform efforts, the stronger they become. The momentum is growing, and Maine may have given a broader movement a monumental boost.