CONTRIBUTOR

Runoff elections not needed

Posted March 21, 2011, at 9:26 p.m.

A proposed constitutional amendment requiring majority vote for governor is wrong, expensive

and disenfranchises voters.

LD 607 would require that if no candidate wins with 50 percent-plus one, a runoff must be

called for the two candidates with the most votes.

Runoff elections would become institutionalized as part of the process, based on recent history.

Only twice has a candidate won a majority in 32 years: Joe Brennan was re-elected in 1982 with 61 percent and Angus King won a second term in 1998 with 58.6 percent. Neither won a first term with a majority.

Every other gubernatorial election since 1978 would have required a runoff had the majorityrequirement been in effect. Brennan won his first bid in 1978 with 48 percent; John McKernan

got 39.9 percent in 1986 and 46.7 percent in 1990; King won his first term in 1994 with 35.4 percent; John Baldacci got 47.2 percent in 2002 and 38 percent in 2006; and, most recently, Paul LePage was elected with 38 percent.

Using the logic of this proposal, Harry Truman in 1948, John F. Kennedy in 1960, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and George W. Bush in 2000 would not have taken office because in each of those elections the winner got less than 50 percent of the popular vote.

The proposal is shortsighted because it will actually disenfranchise a considerable segment of the electorate.

Constitutionally, the Legislature certifies the vote on the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday in January. The proposed amendment does not change the timetable, so any runoff election would be in January, when weather holds down voter turnout. For the military, snowbirds, elderly or physically frail, two weeks is too short to receive and return an absentee ballot .

And, unless the Democrats and Republicans exert a monopoly over political participation, the appearance of independent and smaller party candidates is a healthy electoral development. But when three or more candidates are on the ballot, it is extremely difficult for anyone to win by a clear majority.

The Bangor Daily News quoted Sen. Thomas Saviello, the bill’s sponsor, saying, “If you decide this is something you’re going to pursue, it will obviously have some kind of financial impact.”

Sen. Saviello, R-Wilton, did not offer a fiscal impact statement or a cost estimate but it is certain to be expensive.

It is safe to say that at a time when Maine’s existing programs look at potential budget cuts, it is fiscally unwise to saddle taxpayers with this ridiculous burden.

LD 607 would add unnecessary expense to state and municipal budgets if local polling places and the Secretary of State’s Office were required to have special election ballots and polling places opened statewide. Candidates would have additional expenses for the short runoff campaign, some of which would be borne by public funds if any of them were using Maine Clean Election funds.

Electing our government is not a frivolous ongoing elimination like a television reality show. The Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government can do us all a big favor and let this proposal die a quiet death without seeing the light of day on the legislative floor.

Victor Berardelli of Newburgh is a political consultant and author of “The Politics Guy Campaign Tips — How to Win a Local Election.”

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