May 25, 2018

Ranked-choice voting a first in state-wide election by Lorraine Glowczak

At the primary elections in June, voters will use a new system to choose the candidates of their choice through a method called Ranked-choice voting (RCV). Also known as instant-runoff, RCV has been under consideration in Maine for many years and was put to ballot referendum and adopted in the 2016 elections. After legal considerations including a recent Maine Supreme Court deliberation, RCV is the first state to use this voting system in a state-wide election.

RCV will apply to races for Congress, governor and the state Legislature, but will not be used to vote on municipal offices or for president. Portland has used RCV in their municipal elections.

How does RCV work? Voters will rank the candidates of their choice in order of preference (i.e., first choice, second choice, third choice, etc.). According the Ranked-Choice Voting-Maine website, “On election night, all the ballots are counted for voters’ first choices. If one candidate receives an outright majority, he or she wins. If no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated and voters who liked that candidate the best have their ballots instantly counted for their second choice. This process repeats, and last-place candidates lose until one candidate reaches a majority and wins. Your vote counts for your second choice only if your first choice has been eliminated.”

If your first choice is defeated, your ballot will count for your next highest choice. RCV will not hurt your favorite candidate by ranking other candidates and it will not help your favorite candidate by not ranking the others. You can rank as many candidates as you’d like, and you do not have to rank the candidate you do not wish to support.

As with all things, RCV has a history. According to the Ranked-choice Voting Resource Center website, RCV was invented in the 1850s in Europe, as a proportional representation system to be used in multi-winner elections. In the 1870s, it was adapted to the single-winner (or “instant runoff”) form by William Ware, an MIT professor., Ohio, became the first location in the United States to use RCV in 1915, using it to elect their city council. RCV spread through the rest of Ohio and across the country to places like Boulder, Colorado; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Sacramento, California; and West Hartford, Connecticut eventually making its way to Portland.

As with any new approach, fears of making a mistake in the new system may be experienced. If you have questions, you are free to ask for help from one of the poll staff members. If you make a mistake, simply ask for a new ballot.

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