PORTLAND, Maine -- Maine is advancing a proposal that would make it the second state to elect its governor using ranked choice voting, and it is expected for a vote in the state Legislature in the coming weeks after receiving a key committee approval.
Maine and Alaska both use the ranked voting format for congressional and presidential elections, and cities in many other states are embracing it for mayoral and other elections. Alaska uses a version of it for governor.
Proponents of ranked voting say it prevents “spoiler” candidates and promotes cooperation, civility and political moderates.
In Maine, proponents have long pushed for the format to be used in governor and state legislative races, but that would require an amendment to the Maine Constitution.
The Maine Legislature's legal affairs committee approved a proposal in May to do that. The next step is for a vote by the full Legislature, with two-thirds majority approval to pass, which is currently in session and could end this month. Then it would need direct approval from a majority of state voters.
The sponsor of the amendment proposal, Democratic Sen. Cameron Reny of Bristol, said the change would reflect the will of state residents who approved ranked voting in 2016.
“We ought to be governed by people who are chosen by a true majority of the population,” Reny said. “The idea that most people should be in control of their leadership and their representation should be a bipartisan issue.”
The voting method works like this: Voters can rank the candidates on their ballot in order of preference. If no candidate breaks 50% of the popular vote, the bottom finisher is eliminated, and voters’ second choices come into play. Tabulations continue until a candidate gets a majority of the total votes.
The method propelled Democratic Rep. Jared Golden of Maine into Congress. Golden needed the second-choice votes to defeat former Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2018. That made him the first member of Congress elected via ranked voting.
Golden's victory is among a number of reasons Republicans in Maine, and elsewhere, have opposed ranked choice voting. The Maine committee passed the proposal along party lines, with Republicans voting against it. Democrats have a majority in both the Maine House of Representatives and Maine Senate, but would require some crossover votes to achieve the two-thirds majority they need to amend the constitution.
Conservative groups have vowed to fight any expansion of ranked voting in the state. The Maine Policy Institute, a free-market advocacy group, testified against the expansion during a public hearing in May. The group called the method “a fad and a costly failure” in its testimony.
“Voting systems should meet some basic criteria: casting a ballot is as easy as possible, and every voter can be assured that his or her vote will count equally toward the final result. Unfortunately, RCV fails these simple tests,” the testimony said.
Alaska's version of ranked voting is slightly different than Maine's. Elections in the state start with a nonpartisan “pick one” primary. The top four move on to the general election, with ranked voting.
Massachusetts had a chance to join the list of states that use ranked voting, but residents shot the idea down in 2020. The voting format is also used by a growing number of U.S. cities, including Cambridge, Massachusetts, San Francisco and New York City.