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How the First-in-the-Nation Ranked-Choice Voting Worked Out in Maine Yesterday

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | June 13, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | June 13, 2018 |


We had the first-in-the-country ranked voting ballot yesterday here in Maine, and it looks like it will be decisive in our Democratic primary. No one scored 50 percent of the vote (the top two candidates are at 33 and 28 percent), so they will start tabulating ranked-choice votes on Friday. Basically, how it works is this: The person who finished in last place is dropped from the ballot and her voters’ second choice will become the first choice, and the process repeats itself until one candidate has 50 percent of the vote.

I have a feeling that it will allow the guy with the second most top-choice votes — Adam Cote — to leap over the top vote-getter, Janet Mills. I happen to agree that it should (for personal reasons, I am not a fan of Mills), but I do wonder if this decision to design a ballot to ensure a less divisive election will actually result in more divisiveness if the person with the most top-choice votes loses to a guy who cobbles together more second and third-choice votes.

In this particular race, I am not exactly sure how things will shake out (and there’s been very little polling), but I have a feeling that Janet Mills has a more passionate base of support, but that beyond those who made her their first choice, the rest of the electorate is likely to put her lower on their list (for instance, I put her very low on my list).

One other wrinkle here is that two candidates — Mark Eves and Elizabeth Sweet — allied together and urged their voters to put the other as their second choice. I don’t think it’s going to make a difference in this election (they accumulated 15 and 16 percent of the vote, respectively, so even if you add them both up, only one candidate would get 31 percent of the vote), but it could in future elections. It’s a fascinating play, which turns our election for Governor into something like a game of Survivor, where you want to be one of the top two vote-getters in the end, but you also want to ensure that you haven’t alienated the voters of those who are “on the jury,” so to speak.

In either respect, while ranked-choice voting yesterday, voters also voted on whether we wanted to keep ranked-choice voting in the state (which was just voted in during the last election), and voters fairly decisively decided to keep it, so ranked-choice voting is here to stay in Maine even if our Governor doesn’t support it (he’s apparently going to refuse to certify the election, but because it’s a primary, his certification is not necessary). LePage won two elections because liberals split their votes, which prompted the decision to put ranked-choice voting on the ballot in the first place.

I have noticed that the rhetoric had not been particularly mean-spirited until the final days of the campaign here when Mills went negative (Adam Cote, her top opponent, once switched to the Republican party so he could vote for John McCain, and Mills started shit-talking him as a Republican), and I wonder if that will cost her the election. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out, although the one downside of ranked-choice voting is that we have to wait until this weekend to find out the results. That may actually be an upside in the end, because it gives voters a few days to cool off before a winner is announced.

At any rate, I do hope that it succeeds and that it can become a model for other states. It keeps candidates from running too far to one side, even in the primaries, although in the case of our GOP primary, there was a decisive victor, who received 53 percent of the vote. He’s fairly mild as Republicans in this day and age go, and he’s what I guess I’d call a homer: Not terribly bright, but a nice enough guy, and a total Mainer, which goes a long way here. I don’t think he’ll win in the general election — because there won’t be any liberal-vote splitting and the state leans blue — but he’s more formidable than the harder-right Republicans, who all fared poorly. My hope, at least, is that ranked-choice voting weeds out the more Republican extremist (although, it will probably also make it more difficult for super progressive candidates to win their primaries, as well).

I’ll keep you posted when the results come in.