The two-steps-forward-three-sideways-and-one-back journey of ranked-choice voting in Maine appears to have finally crossed the finish line: Voters in Tuesday’s primary approved keeping the system for the November election by a pretty hefty margin, roughly 54% to 46% (not all results are in as I write). The governor, who hates the idea, has threatened to block the result by not certifying it, but the Maine secretary of state says he doesn’t have that power because governors don’t have to certify results in primaries. So unless something wild happens, Maine will usher in a new era November with statewide ranked-choice voting.
What’s not to like about giving voters more say in showing their preference among multiple candidates? Complexity, for one – and Tuesday’s crowded Democratic primary for governor demonstrated it perfectly.
In traditional first-past-the-post voting a winner would already have been announced: One of the seven candidates has 33% of the total and the next highest has 28%. But in ranked-choice you don’t win unless you have at least 50.1% of the tally. As of this writing the statewide ballots are being collected so that the ranked-choice process can take place – it’ll be another day or so before this process is finished: 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. A vote counts for second choice only if the ballot’s first choice has been eliminated.
It will be interesting to see people’s reactions if the current second-place candidate ends up winning under the ranked-choice tally. When that happened in the mayoral race in Burlington, Vermont, using instant-runoff voting, people felt somehow cheated and in 2010 decided to go back to traditional voting.