By PATRICK WHITTLE, Associated Press:
Maine could become the first state in the country to use ranked choice voting for state and federal elections if voters approve of a proposed ballot question about the idea that went before state officials Monday.
A group of advocates of the method of voting, which is sometimes also called instant runoff, submitted signatures on Monday needed to put the proposal on the November 2016 ballot to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. Ranked choice voting lets voters rank candidates in order of preference, knowing that if their first choice does not win, their vote will go to their second choice.
The system eliminates so-called spoiler candidates and will ensure a majority of voters for the winner, supporters said. Some proponents of ranked choice voting point to the fact that Gov. Paul LePage won his first term with 38 percent of the vote, but advocates also say they expect support for the idea across the political spectrum.
The proposal calls for ranked choice voting to be used for elections for U.S. senator, U.S. representative, governor, state senator and state representative.
(Addendum: The newly elected prime minister of Canada has promised to change that country’s “first past the post” election system, which can be problematic if there are more than two similarly popular parties.)
Ranked choice is currently used in several cities, including Portland, Maine’s largest city, which uses it for the mayoral election. It’s also used in San Francisco, Minneapolis and Takoma Park, Md., as well as in some states for overseas voters and out-of-state military personnel.
“The benefit of ranking more than one is having your voice throughout the election,” said Michelle Whittaker, spokeswoman for Takoma Park-based FairVote, who added that winning candidates’ support comes from a broader base.
The supporters of the proposal gathered 70,000 signatures that will have to be verified for the proposal to make it on the 2016 ballot. The state legislature will also have a chance to enact the measure on its own.
Dunlap said state officials will have to square the new voting rules with the state’s constitution if they pass, because the constitution says the race for governor is decided by a plurality of voters, not a majority. He said new rules could also make election results take longer to calculate, and could have an impact on potential recounts.