A Win for All: Strong majority in Benton Co. votes to use Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for elections

Maine does the same statewide, by equally strong majority

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A flowchart makes clear how simple RCV actually is

Let it be again that “As Maine goes, so goes the nation!”

Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV) — Better, Faster, Cheaper than the way we vote now

One of the least prominent but most important things that happened on November 8 is that two very distant and very different places — a small county in Oregon and Maine, a state that has suffered greatly from the inherent and unavoidable defects in our archaic, 18th Century “first-past-the-post” (vote for one only) way of voting — chose to make improvements in the very fabric of democracy by adopting a better way of voting that will lead to better campaigns and, with luck, better, less polarized elections, without the fear of “spoilers” and concerns about multiple candidates “stealing” votes from other candidates.

Maine still has a ways to go to implement the change for statewide offices (because they lack the language of Oregon’s constitution, which expressly permits ranked choice voting), but after repeated bouts of electing Governors with only minority support, Mainers — who haven’t had a Governor elected with majority support in 50 years — are eager to get on with the necessary next steps.

This citizen-initiated legislation would establish a new method of voting and counting votes in elections for the offices of United States Senator, Representative to Congress, Governor, State Senator and State Representative, and in primary elections to determine the nominees for those offices.

Rather than choosing one candidate for each of these offices, voters would be allowed to rank all the candidates listed for each office, including up to one write-in candidate, in order of the voter’s preference. Thus in a three-way race, instead of marking one vote on the ballot for candidate A, B or C, the voter could express preferences among all three candidates by ranking them as choice(s) #1, 2 or 3 on the same ballot.

Ballots are counted at the municipal level in Maine, and there are approximately 500 municipalities. Under current law, all 500 municipalities report their vote tallies to the Secretary of State within three business days of the election, and the Secretary of State then aggregates those results in a single tabulation. The candidate with the most votes for each office based on that single tabulation wins.

Ranked-choice voting involves a different process for tallying voters’ choices.

All of the voters’ first-choice votes would be tallied in the first round of counting by municipal officials and reported to the Secretary of State within three business days of the election, as occurs now.

In a multi-candidate race, if one candidate were to win more than 50% of the total votes in the first round, that candidate would be declared the winner.

If no candidate received over 50% of the vote in round one, then there would be a second round of counting. The candidate in last place after the first round would be eliminated, and the second-choice votes of the voters who preferred the eliminated candidate would be distributed to their second-choice candidates.

In a three-way race, only two candidates would continue to round two, and the candidate with the most votes after round two would win. If there were four or more candidates in the race, the process might need to go to a third round of counting. A voter’s first choice would continue to be counted in each round unless that candidate had been eliminated, at which point the voter’s next ranked choice who had not been eliminated would be counted. This process would continue until only two candidates were left in the final round, or until one candidate received a majority.

The second and subsequent rounds of counting voter preferences could not be performed at the local level for statewide offices such as Governor or U.S. Senate, or for any elective office that encompasses more than one municipality. The process of re-allocating voter preferences in a multicandidate race would have to be done centrally, using computer software to read digitally scanned images of the ballots. Ballots or electronic devices holding images of ballots would have to be retrieved from all the municipalities in the district for that particular elective office (meaning 500 towns in a gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race), and delivered to a secure central location where the second and, if necessary, subsequent rounds of counting could be performed.

The Maine Constitution currently provides that in elections for Governor, State Senator and State Representative, the candidate who receives “a plurality of all votes returned” as reported by the municipalities wins. In order to implement ranked-choice voting in general elections for these offices, this language would have to be amended by a separate constitutional resolve, adopted by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and approved by the voters at a statewide referendum election. See Opinion of the Attorney General, No. 2016-01, dated March 4, 2016.

If approved, the citizen initiative would take effect 30 days after the Governor proclaims the official results of the November 2016 election, but the ranked-choice voting system would not apply to elections until 2018. This would allow time for the Legislature and the voters to consider a constitutional amendment before implementation.

In Oregon’s Benton County, the Yes campaign, Better Ballot Benton, issued this press release in the wake of the strong win (54% Yes, 46% No):

Thank you! Ranked Choice Voting Passes in a Landslide
November 9, 2016

RANKED CHOICE VOTING CAMPAIGN MAKES HISTORY

Benton County the First in Oregon to Adopt RCV

Benton County voters approved Measure 2-100 today, a pioneering Ranked Choice Voting initiative, making the County the first in Oregon to adopt the innovative voting method.  The Measure won by 54%-46%.  On the other side of the country, Maine looked likely to be the first state to approve Ranked Choice Voting for statewide elections.

“We made history today,” said Blair Bobier, a Benton County Planning Commissioner and one of two Chief Petitioners for the initiative.  “This is one small step for Benton County and one giant leap for Oregon democracy.”

The passage of Measure 2-100 means that Benton County will use Ranked Choice Voting for electing local officials as soon as funding is procured for educating voters about the change in voting methods.  The Measure specifies that county taxpayers will not be on the hook for this expenditure—the funding will come from either the State of Oregon or sources such as non-profit organizations.

State Rep. Dan Rayfield, the measure’s other Chief Petitioner, said “Oregon is a nationally recognized leader of voting innovations like vote-by-mail and automatic voter registration.  Ranked Choice Voting continues this pioneering tradition.  Benton County’s Ranked Choice Voting deserves the support of all Oregonians as a blueprint for the future of Oregon’s democracy.”

Maine Voters Adopt Ranked Choice Voting
Posted on November 09, 2016

Lead the Way for More Choice, More Voice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 9, 2016

PORTLAND, MAINE — On November 8, Maine voters passed Question 5 and became the first state in the nation to adopt Ranked Choice Voting for state and federal elections. The Yes On 5 campaign was led by the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, a grassroots, Maine-based organization founded by former independent state senator Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth, and led by Kyle Bailey of Gorham.

“Passage of Question 5 is a historic victory for the people of Maine,” said campaign chair Dick Woodbury. “Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Greens, and Libertarians across Maine understand that the system is broken, and they have taken an important step to help fix it.”

“Maine people have exercised their right to change the way we elect our leaders,” said campaign manager Kyle Bailey. “Question 5 levels the playing field for candidates with the best ideas and gives more choice and more voice to voters, so you never have to vote for the lesser of two evils.”

Question 5 was endorsed by over 500 civic, business, labor, and faith leaders and organizations, and newspapers across Maine. The campaign was supported by a politically diverse campaign committee and county co-chairs. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Maine endorsed Ranked Choice Voting in 2011 and convened a working group that drafted the law on which the initiative was based.

“Maine has not elected a governor to a first term with majority support since 1966,” said Jill Ward, President of the League of Women Voters of Maine. “Ranked Choice Voting restores majority rule and puts more power in the hands of voters.”

FairVote, a national organization that advocates for Ranked Choice Voting and other proven solutions to give more voice to voters, supported a project in Maine to educate voters about this reform.

“The adoption of Ranked Choice Voting in Maine marks a dramatic step forward for American democracy,” said FairVote executive director Rob Richie, “Maine’s groundbreaking victory promises to inspire other states to embrace this better system.”

Under the new law, Ranked Choice Voting will take effect in Maine in 2018 for primary and general elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative. “The voters of Maine have spoken,” said Ward. “We’re ready to get to work to ensure that this new law is implemented efficiently and effectively, and that the will of the people is upheld.”