Why It Matters That All 4 Maine Senate Candidates Will Share a Debate Stage
The US Senate race in Maine is expected to be highly contested as Democrats seek to unseat Republican Susan Collins. However, before voters make a decision, they will have an opportunity to hear from all 4 candidates running in the race.
The Bangor Daily News, the Portland Press Herald, and News Center Maine will host the televised and streamed Senate debate on September 11. Sen. Collins, Democratic State House Speaker Sara Gideon, and independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn have all agreed to participate.
Despite being ignored in the polls, an invitation was extended to the alternative choices to the Republican and Democratic Party nominees, a stark contrast to how the presidential debates are handled. Now, Mainers have a chance to hear from all viable candidates running.
It is important to note that the US Senate race in Maine is unique as it is the only Senate race in the country that will use ranked choice voting (RCV), which makes third party and independent inclusion in the debates all the more important. Prior to RCV’s adoption, 4 candidates in a tight Senate race might have meant the winner would have won with less than 50% of the vote. Yet now, a candidate needs majority support in order to win.
Advocates of RCV say the system gives voters greater confidence to pick the candidate they truly want to win as their first preference-- as opposed to voting with a 'lesser-of-two-evils mindset,' while also indicating who they would select in subsequent runoffs by indicating a second, third, and fourth preference.
This also means that candidates have to compete for voters they might not have had to under a choose-one voting method. Now, the Republican and Democratic nominees have to figure out how they can appeal to voters who prefer the independent and third party nominees.
Having all 4 candidates on the debate stage at the same time gives voters a chance to effectively compare and contrast the nominees. It can help them make a more informed decision on who to rank second, third, and fourth.
Candidates, on the other hand, have to be more mindful and considerate of the ideas and opinions of the others on stage. How Collins and Gideon respond to independent ideas and opinions could sway the election one way or another.
In other words, voters have more choice and the independent candidates have a stronger voice in the process -- something voters in other states unfortunately won’t see in the 2020 elections.
The Maine US Senate race could very well be the first in US history to be decided in automatic runoffs under an RCV system. Democrats are pouring money in to unseat Collins while Republicans are going to do everything they can to keep their majority in the Senate.
It’s going to be a competitive race, and with the inclusion of more voice and more choice for voters, that can only be a good thing for voters.
About the Author
Shawn is an election reform expert and National Editor of IVN.us. He studied history and philosophy at the University of North Texas. He joined the IVN team in 2012.