After Voter Approval in Maine, Work Begins on Ranked Choice Voting

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Last Tuesday, Maine voters approved a referendum requiring ranked choice voting (RCV). Now, election officials and policymakers are puzzling out how to make the change – and worrying about having it ready in time for the next elections two years away. The Portland Press-Herald has more:

Mainers have voted for a radical overhaul of elections, and now there’s much work to be done before the first statewide ranked-choice system is implemented.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said that he’ll be meeting in coming weeks with legislative leaders and ranked-choice voting advocates to start the implementation process. And he’s already worried that the 2018 date in the referendum may be too ambitious.

But Kyle Bailey, campaign manager of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said there’s no wiggle room on the implementation date.

“This is not a recommendation or an advisory opinion of the people. This was a statute enacted by the Maine people,” he said …

Maine’s new ranked-choice voting system will be used for races for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, Maine Senate and Maine House.

One key challenge is that Maine will be the first state to use RCV for statewide elections, which will require changes to state law – and perhaps the state Constitution:

[RCV] works like this: Voters rank their top four ballot choices from first to last instead of simply choosing a single candidate.

If no candidate wins an outright majority, then the election outcome is determined by additional rounds of tabulations in Augusta. In each round, the last-place candidate would be removed, and votes reallocated, until a candidate receives a majority of the vote.

The system is sometimes called an instant runoff.

But it wouldn’t be instant in Maine.

That’s because the ballots would have to be shipped by town clerks to a central location in Augusta for additional voting rounds. Thus the outcome of an election in a multiple-candidate race might not be known for several weeks.

Supporters say the system ensures that a candidate wins majority support while eliminating the impact of spoiler candidates or party extremists who lack centrist appeal.

Constitutional questions remain. The Maine Constitution declares the winner by a plurality, not majority, and requires votes to be collected locally. Both of those questions must be addressed before implementation, and even then there could be a legal challenge, Dunlap said.

Proponents say they’re up for the challenge:

Supporters have downplayed the constitutional questions, and the system is already in use for mayoral elections in Portland.

“The voters of Maine have spoken,” said Jill Ward, president of the League of Women Voters of Maine. “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.”

Those two hurdles – legislative action and the prospect of litigation – are potentially significant hurdles to RCV going forward and will almost certainly be the front lines in the ongoing battle for implementation in time for the next statewide election.

We are more than 700 days away from Election Day 2018, and RCV is already on the clock in Maine; add it to your new list of “what to watch” in the election world and stay tuned …

 

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