Maine is now the first state to adopt ranked-choice voting for statewide elections, changing how the governor, state legislators, and members of Congress will be elected.
Voters approved a ballot initiative on Election Day that moved Maine to a system in which the candidates need a majority of votes to be victorious. Previously, whichever candidate received a plurality of the votes – or more than anyone else – won.
Going forward, if there are multiple candidates on the ballot and none receives 50 percent of the vote, ranked voting kicks in. Instead of simply choosing a single candidate, voters must also rank candidates from first to last. The last-place candidate is eliminated and his or her votes reallocated until a candidate receives a majority of the vote.
But constitutional questions remain.
Maine’s constitution dictates winners must be determined by “a plurality of all votes returned,” and local election officials must count those votes, according to a memo by Maine Attorney General Janet Mills written prior to Election Day.
Ranked-choice voting changes both of these constitutional provisions. If an election goes to round two, the secretary of state would tally – and redistribute – votes using a computer algorithm, Mills’ memo said.
Any action to address the attorney general’s concerns now falls to Maine’s Legislature, a Mills spokesman wrote in an email.
Races with more than a couple of candidates are common in Maine, which has had more than two gubernatorial candidates on the ballot in every election since 1974. Out of those 11 elections, only twice has a candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote.
Ranked-choice voting ensures “fair representation,” according to the nonprofit FairVote, which advocates for election reform nationally and has taken up the cause in Maine. Local advocates said it eliminates vote splitting, reduces incentives for negative campaigning, and ensures voters don’t feel like their vote is wasted, according to Committee for Ranked Choice Voting’s website.