Amid a national vote that rocked the political world Tuesday, voters in Maine narrowly approved a measure that supporters say will be respectively disruptive to the state’s political status quo.
With 98 percent of the vote reporting in the state, 52 percent of voters approved a ballot question making Maine the first state to implement ranked choice voting, a fundamental reform of how voters literally fill out their ballot.
In a ranked choice vote system, rather than simply voting for one candidate, voters rank their candidates by preference—first, second, third, and so on.
Then, if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote after the first choices are counted, the candidate with the least first-choice rankings is eliminated, and the voters who preferred the last place finisher have their vote reallocated according to their next choice. The votes are then recounted and the process is repeated until one candidate breaks the 50 percent threshold.
With Question 5 passed, ranked choice voting will be used statewide in Maine, including in primary and general elections for U.S. Senate, House, and the governorship, as well as the Maine Senate and House of Representatives.
As Boston.com reported in September, supporters say this system solves a number of election problems faced across the nation—yet particularly so in Maine.
First, they say it resolves the conundrum of strategic voting, in which residents worry that their ballot may have a “spoiler effect” if they cast it for a third-party candidate.
Maine has a political tradition of strong third parties and, in fact, only once in the last 40 years has the state’s governor been elected with majority. Of course, this means nearly every time, the majority of Mainers did not vote for their governor (recently to contentious results).
There is also research that shows ranked choice voting results in more civil campaigns.
According to Kyle Bailey, the campaign manager for the Yes on 5 campaign, the system disincentives negative attacks that could alienate voters and forces candidates to broaden their appeal.
“Under the old way, when you’re knocking on doors and see a yard sign for another candidate, you skip that house and go to the next door,” Bailey previously told Boston.com. “With ranked choice voting, you couldn’t do that. [Candidates] have to go knock on that door, talk to that voter, and ask, if they couldn’t be their first choice, could they be their second choice?”
While some European countries and a handful of American cities, such as Cambridge, have ranked choice voting, Maine will be the first place it is used statewide.
However, advocates hope the Pine Tree State is just the first domino to fall.
“The adoption of Ranked Choice Voting in Maine marks a dramatic step forward for American democracy,” Rob Richie, the executive director of the electoral reform group FairVote, said in a statement Wednesday.
“Maine’s groundbreaking victory promises to inspire other states to embrace this better system,” he added.