Paul LePage has joined the winners in seven of the last nine Maine gubernatorial elections in garnering the support of less than half of the electorate. Beginning the task of governing with well more than half of the electorate invested in another candidate hamstrings the new chief executive.
Mainers should be proud that our state is a place where a third-party or independent candidate can launch a legitimate campaign for governor. And they do. Most of the gubernatorial contests of the last 36 years have had three or more candidates on the ballot.
Consider the results in recent decades: In 1974, James Longley was elected with 39.7 percent of the vote; in 1978, Joseph Brennan was elected with 47.8 percent; in 1986, John McKernan was elected with 39.9 percent; in 1990, Gov. McKernan was re-elected with 46.7 percent; in 1994, Angus King was elected with 35.4 percent; in 2002, John Baldacci was elected with 47 percent; and in 2006, Gov. Baldacci was re-elected with 38 percent. In the other years, the candidates won by more than 50 percent.Too often, voters face a calculation — “I want to vote for candidate A, but I don’t want candidate B to win.” Or, “I feel strongly about candidate C, but knowing he is drawing just 10 percent support in polls, I worry I will be throwing away my vote.”
There is another way. Alternatives to the system by which the person receiving the most votes wins the office are used elsewhere in the world, and in some places in the U.S. One of the most popular methods is instant runoff voting. Voters use a form that allows them to indicate their preference among the candidates, ranking them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on. They can choose to rank just one, two or as many as they want.
In such a system, all the candidates receiving a “1” ranking are tallied. If one candidate has landed more than 50 percent of “1” votes, he or she wins. But if not, then the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated. The ballots for the eliminated candidate are then scanned to determine second choices. Those second choices are added as votes to the remaining candidates. If that process gives a candidate more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she is declared the winner. If not, the process is repeated, with the candidate now at the bottom of the heap eliminated, and the second choice votes distributed among the candidates. The process continues until a winner is declared — a winner with a majority of votes, at least under this system.
Other runoff systems can be employed. The two candidates winning the most votes could then face a runoff a week later.
An amendment to the state constitution would be required. So far, the instant runoff process is in use in a dozen municipalities around the nation, and two states — Arkansas and Louisiana — use it. It may be a good fit for Maine’s next gubernatorial election.