May 20, 2018
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Lawmakers team up in support of bringing ranked-choice voting to statewide races

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
An example of the ranked-choice ballot Portland voters saw when they went to the polls for the city's 2011 mayoral race.
By Will Graff, The Forecaster

YARMOUTH, Maine — Two legislators have joined forces to support a single bill to establish ranked-choice voting in Maine.

The election-law bill submitted by Sen. Dick Woodbury, I-Yarmouth, is now co-sponsored by Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, who submitted similar draft legislation at the beginning of the year.

Woodbury said the bill has generated notable public interest.

“I think the fact that the next governor’s race is shaping up to have Eliot Cutler as a prominent independent is increasing people’s interest in making sure there is some kind of narrowing down of the system, so that the ultimate winner of that race has the majority support of the people,” he said.

Under the bill, candidates running for statewide offices would be ranked by voters on Election Day, similar to Portland’s mayoral elections, where voters enacted a ranked-choice system in 2011.

Ranked-choice voting asks voters to rank candidates according to their preference: first, second, third, etc., until they no longer have a preference or all candidates have been given a ranking.

If on Election Day no candidate receives a majority of votes, an instant runoff election occurs. Candidates with the fewest first-choice votes are eliminated, with their votes redistributed among the remaining candidates. Successive rounds continue until a candidate receives a majority.

Woodbury said the bill’s language has now been finalized and will soon have a number, but it probably won’t have a hearing for at least another month.

Over the course of the next week, he said, the two legislators plan to solicit co-sponsors.

The bill will face significant challenges, including how it deals with the logistics of organizing returns from all of the nearly 500 municipalities in the state, with 330 different ballot styles. The ballots would have to be delivered to Augusta to be counted, and then would have to be returned to each municipality for a retention period, as required under election law.

Similar bills have made appearances in previous sessions, but none have made it out of committee.

In Portland’s 2011 mayoral election, the first ranked-choice voting election in the state, 15 candidates ran for mayor. Michael Brennan, who held an 850-vote lead in the popular vote, was elected in the 14th run-off round, about 24 hours after the polls closed.

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