How Does Ranked Choice Voting Work?
Ranked choice voting lets voters rank their choices based on individual preference. First choices are counted, and if no candidate has a majority of the vote, an “instant runoff” occurs in which the candidate with the least support is eliminated. Voters that picked the eliminated candidate as their first choice have their vote counted for their next choice. In a three-person race, we now have a winner with majority support in the final round of tabulation. In a race with more than three candidates, this process is repeated until one candidate has a majority.
Read more about it in RCV Basics.
Why is RCV Considered as an Alternative to our Current System?
Our current voting system, plurality voting, works well when there are only two candidates because one of them is guaranteed to win with majority support. But three and four-way races among competitive candidates are common in Maine and can lead to results where the winner fails to receive a majority of the votes cast (50% + 1).
Dating back to 1974, the winner has failed to receive a majority vote in 9 of the last 11 gubernatorial elections in Maine. In 5 of those races, the elections were won with less than 40 percent support. Given the frequency with which this was happening in Maine elections, the League of Women Voters of Maine convened a study in 2008 to consider alternative voting systems. That study concluded in 2011 with an endorsement of ranked choice voting as the best way to ensure a majority vote in competitive, single-seat, multi-candidate elections.
What are the Benefits of Ranked Choice Voting?
✓ Gives voters more meaningful choices: Ranked choice voting allows candidates from outside the two major parties to compete. It helps create a richer dialogue on the issues and increases the diversity of views available for voters to consider.
✓ Eliminates spoilers and strategic voting: Ranked choice voting allows voters to support their favorite candidate without worrying that they might “throw their vote away,” or worse, split their votes with like‐minded voters and unintentionally help elect the candidate they like the least.
✓ Reduces negative campaigning: Candidates running in ranked choice elections must ask for second and, sometimes, third choice rankings. Voters are less likely to rank a candidate highly who is negative toward their preferred candidate.
✓ Reduces the influence of money in politics: Campaigns and special interest groups spend a lot of money on negative advertising. By making negative advertising less effective, ranked choice voting reduces the need for, and influence of, money in politics.
Where is RCV being Used?
✓ More than 50 colleges and universities use ranked choice voting for some or all of their student government elections.
✓ 11 cities across the United States currently use ranked choice voting to elect city officers, including San Francisco, Cambridge, and Minneapolis.
✓ 5 states provide military and overseas voters with ranked choice ballots to participate in federal runoff elections.
✓ 4 countries, including Australia, Ireland, Malta, and New Zealand, use ranked choice voting in federal elections.
✓ Numerous public and private sector organizations, including the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science, use ranked choice voting for their elections.
Read more about who uses RCV.
What’s Happening Right Now
Ranked Choice Voting will appear as Question 5 on the ballot in November 2016. Vote Yes on Question 5 to approve RCV for Maine.The wording of the question as it will appear on the ballot is as follows;
Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?
Over several months beginning in 2013, former State Senator Dick Woodbury met with a working group convened by the League of Women Voters to develop a proposal for ranked-choice voting. Read the proposed legislation here.
In October 2014, Sen. Woodbury and other civic leaders launched an ambitious campaign to collect up to 70,000 petition signatures to bring RCV reform to a public referendum.
As of October 19, 2015, they had collected over 70,000 signatures and delivered them to the Secretary of State to put the question on the ballot in 2016. The signatures were certified for the ballot in November, 2015, and the measure was presented to the 127th Legislature in its second session.
On March 15, 2016, the Legislature decided to send the measure directly to referendum, where it will appear on the general election ballot in November, 2016.
Click Here to Learn More or to Sign Up for the campaign.
Gubernatorial Elections in Maine
Who Else Uses Ranked Choice Voting?
Interview with Portland Mayor Mike Brennan
The Leagues Position on Ranked Choice Voting, also called Instant Run-off Voting
LWVME Legislative Testimony on RCV
Ranked Choice Voting in the News
Maine Voices: Ranked-choice voting passes every test of true democracy, LWVME President Jill Ward’s op-ed in the Portland Press Herald, June 11, 2016.
As a Republican, this is why I support ranked-choice voting, BDN op-ed June 8, 2016.
Maine attorney general says ranked-choice voting may require amending constitution, Portland Press Herald, March 5, 2016.
Maine officials, legislators question legality of ranked-choice voting, Portland Press Herald, January 20, 2015.
Maine election officials certify ranked-choice voting proposal for 2016 ballot, Portland Press Herald, November 18, 2015.
More than 70,000 Maine voters want ranked choice voting on November 2016 ballot, press release from the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, October 19, 2015.
Our View: Group looks to 2016 for ranked-choice vote, editorial in the Portland Press Herald, January 31, 2015.
No more spoilers, a focus on the issues: 6 reasons it’s time for ranked choice voting in Maine, Dick Woodbury’s op. ed. in the Bangor Daily News, January 27, 2015.
Maine ranked-choice voting advocates gather signatures, Portland Press Herald, January 3, 2015.
Group collecting signatures for ranked choice voting, WGME, January 3, 2015.
Mainers seek ranked-choice voting petition signatures, Seacoast Online January 1, 2015.
Campaign for ranked-choice voting measure needs about 15,000 signatures, Portland Sun, December 12, 2014.
Ranked Choice, The Times Record endorses RCV, November 16, 2014.
Ranked-choice voting advocates gathered 36,000 signatures on Election Day, story in the Portland Press Herald, November 12, 2014.
Portland Press Herald endorses RCV petition, October 31, 2014.
Advocates of RCV launch petition drive in Maine, story in the Bangor Daily News, October 27, 2014.
Moot Court on Ranked Choice Voting in Maine
Some people, including members of the League of Women Voters, would like to see ranked choice voting used in Maine’s statewide elections. However, even some proponents worry that there may be an obstacle: the Maine Constitution stipulates that the governor and legislature be elected by “a plurality of all votes.
“Would ranked choice voting be constitutional in Maine?
In February, 2014, The League of Women Voters of Maine convened a Moot Court to explore the constitutionality of ranked choice voting in Maine. We invited members of Maine’s legal and public-policy community to hear the arguments, weigh in, and discuss the issues with the advocates and the panel.
We were extremely pleased to have a distinguished panel for this event:
- Catherine R. Connors of Pierce Atwood
- James T. Kilbreth of Dummond Woodsum
- Hon. Daniel E. Wathen of Pierce Atwood
The advocates for and against the question were Timothy Shannon of Verrill Dana and John Brautigam of John Brautigam Esq. LLC. Our moderator was H. Cabanne Howard. Here is Tim’s Brief for the Appellee. And here is John’s Brief for the Appellant.
Both sides were very well represented. Audience members were polled prior to the arguments and then again after the arguments. These polls revealed no strong consensus among the attendees. After the arguments, the number of undecided votes was greatly reduced, but opinion was still split equally between the Yes and No groups.
The illustrious panel reached a unanimous conclusion that Ranked Choice Voting would not be constitutional in Maine.
You can listen to an audio recording of the Moot Court event here.
Although the moot court panel found as they did, lawyers in and out of Maine continue to be divided on the question. Judge Wathen, for one, was interviewed later, and said, “The case is one on which reasonable minds can and do differ.” He conceded that the arguments in favor of RCV constitutionality were persuasive and that the case might be winnable.
In addition, almost two years later, panelist Jamie Kilbreth issued a memo indicating that he had concluded RCV would be constitutional. Here’s that memo. You can read more arguments by proponents at rcvmaine.com.
In March, 2016, Maine’s Attorney General issued a letter in response to a legislative inquiry indicating that she felt RCV raised significant constitutional issues.
In January, 2016, the League issued this statement regarding the constitutionality of RCV in Maine.
(From the League of Women Voters of Maine website)