PAT LaMARCHE

Instant runoff voting works for Academy Awards, why not Blaine House?

Posted May 10, 2011, at 9:02 p.m.
Last modified May 11, 2011, at 10:09 p.m.

Maine Representative Diane Russell is a legislator from the 120th House District. She’s a champion for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and consequently the sponsor of LD1126.

Almost everyone’s heard of a runoff election. That’s an age-old system where a field of many candidates gets winnowed down to the top two vote-getters who face off at a later date. This system allows folks to cast their first vote for their favorite candidate — knowing full well that if their candidate loses they will have another chance in a few weeks to select between the two front-runners.

IRV is preferred over regular runoff voting because there is no second election day and this saves election boards lots of money. IRV allows a person to rank their choices. And when a candidate loses on the first round to the top vote-getters, the voter’s second choice is counted instead. This doesn’t just guarantee that a candidate has legitimately appealed to the majority of voters, it necessitates that a candidate consider the voters — and honor the wishes of voters — who may only like them as a second choice.

That’s a big difference from the winner-take-all system where the front-runner only considers the minority who liked them best and can effectively and, in the case of Gov. Paul LePage, literally ignore the majority that voted against them.

I could cite a number of countries and smaller governmental units that employ IRV, but there’s a much better example of its employ, and that’s the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That’s right, there are five choices in most categories for the Academy Award and yet only one winner.  And the way they select that winner, without leading men literally coming to blows, is with instant runoff voting.

The 83rd Academy Awards had a whopping 10 nominees for best picture. When “The King’s Speech” won, you didn’t hear representatives of other favorites such as “Black Swan” or “True Grit” accusing each other of being spoilers or whining that they’d been robbed by the process.

No, it’s universally accepted that the best picture is, in fact, the best picture. And that’s because the voters select a second choice to be used if their first choice comes in too low in the ranking to win.

So, with the Academy Awards in mind, let’s turn to the fiasco forged in Maine’s voting booths a few months ago. I’m not going to waste my time on the primary elections in 2010, although I’m certain that the outcome of those would have been different too if IRV had been used. Let’s just stick with the general election.

There were five candidates. Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, while their efforts were admirable, brought up the rear. Had they been part of a ranked voting system they might have done better, because folks would have been comfortable with a second choice in the event that their guy lost.

Let’s say that the second choices of these voters would have been pretty equally divided among the three front-runners. That would have put third-place Libby Mitchell’s electors in the driver’s seat. And they would have pushed either Paul LePage or Eliot Cutler over the top. It’s pretty safe to say that if the Mitchell voters had named a second choice, Eliot Cutler would now be governor of Maine.

But there was no IRV, and consequently, the vast majority of Mainers don’t feel represented in Augusta. So contact your legislator to support LD1126, but there’s another more immediate action you can take to remind the governor’s office that you want to matter to them.

A number of average Janes and Joes will be gathering Thursday between 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. in front of the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor. We’ve got a few replacement panels for the mural in Augusta and you can sign our reservation book, where we’ll be listing the reservations folks have about what’s going on in Augusta. It’s lunch hour, so bring your lunch and we’ll push back with some good-natured humor — the way push backs should be done.

Politics are important.  And when you’re not being represented by your elected officials, you need to start representing yourself.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@ hotmail.com.

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