Ranked choice voting, in the eyes of many reform advocates in Maine, was an important step to create an electoral system that better represents the people of Maine and hold lawmakers more accountable.
Maine made history in June by becoming the first state to use ranked choice voting for statewide, legislative, US Senate, AND US House primary elections. In November, it will be the first state to use the reform for US House and US Senate general elections.
But many voters may be left wondering: Why just two elections? What about the other races?
The Fight for Ranked Choice Voting Continues
Due to a technicality in the Maine constitution, ranked choice voting can be used in all but three elections: the general elections for governor, State House, and State Senate — even though a majority of Maine voters have expressed their desire to see it used in all elections (twice, actually).
State Senate leadership went before the Maine Supreme Court in 2017 and asked the justices whether or not a constitutional amendment would be needed to allow broader use of ranked choice voting in state elections. In a non-binding advisory opinion, the court said yes.
This means the matter will once again have to go before voters.
“A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers [of the legislature], followed by majority ratification by Maine voters. So, this will definitely be back before voters,” said Kyle Bailey in an interview for IVN. Bailey managed the campaign for The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting.
Bailey says that Maine will have a new governor and a new legislature in January, and is optimistic that as voters and policymakers see the benefits of ranked choice voting, support will increase and a constitutional amendment will be viable.
“I can’t tell you if that will happen in the next legislature or two or three legislatures down the line, but we will continue to work on this issue in Maine, as well as across the country, and raise the profile of the issue and the importance of giving voters more voice and more choice,” he explained.
Overcoming Entrenched Partisanship
Gridlock has been an issue in the Maine legislature on several issues, as both chambers are narrowly divided between Republicans and Democrats, with a handful for third party and independent policymakers.
Partisan gridlock was a primary reason why the fight over ranked choice voting turned into such a rollercoaster ride in 2017, which led to a bill that delayed implementation until December 2021 and set the reform up for repeal.
Independent State Rep. Marty Grohman says getting past the tall hurdle of two-thirds support in both chambers will require work from independent-minded policymakers to overcome an entrenched party structure, but he too is optimistic that it will eventually happen.
“Maine likes electoral reforms,” he said in comments for IVN. “We were one of the first states to offer absentee ballots, we split the Electoral College, which very few states do, and I think this is the next thing.”
“The voters clearly like it. It has a lot going for it. One of the things it has going for it that I think we very rarely talk about is it makes sure the votes from every town across the state get tabulated — no race gets called until every ballot is in.”
Grohman is running for US Congress in Maine’s 1st Congressional District. It is a three-way race in which ranked choice voting will be used, and he believes that when voters see ranked choice voting work in more elections like his, we will see it continue to advance.
Looking to November
November is the current focus for advocates and those who campaigned for ranked choice voting. Kyle Bailey says voter education is an opportunity to inform more voters about what exactly is going on with the voting situation in Maine.
“We’re doing voter education right now to make sure voters, many of whom may never have used ranked choice voting before because they didn’t vote in the primaries, understand that they will have an opportunity to rank their choices in November for US Senate and congressional races,” he said.
“Through that education it often comes up that people will say, ‘Oh that’s great. I’m excited to have that for the governor’s race,’ and that is an opportunity to educate them of the fact that because of the legislature’s inaction, you won’t.”
Bailey says it will be important for voters, policymakers, and political scientists to examine the differences between state elections — and the campaigns they produce — like the race for governor and races for US House and Senate.
“I think it is going to be a very clear contrast that ranked choice voting is a better voting system,” he said.
Maine voters will get to decide how they feel about the new reform when they use it for US Senate and House races on November 6.