While the gubernatorial candidates work to get their message out, discuss their policy differences and otherwise run a campaign, the media and general public are more interested in polling results than policy results. While 61 percent of Mainers voted against Gov. Paul LePage last election cycle, a three-way race meant that less than 40 percent of the vote carried the election — and the policies of the state ever since.
Although he is certainly the most dramatic, LePage is hardly the first governor to win with such a dismal percentage. Republicans often point to former Gov. John Baldacci’s percentages as an example of minority rule. They’re right. In fact, the last governor to win with a majority was now Sen. Angus King. Irrespective of who wins with a minority vote, Mainers deserve a governor with a clear mandate who is governing with the backing of a majority of the state.
I happen to be supporting U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud for governor, not because I’m a Democrat or simply because I oppose the direction LePage has taken my home state (although both are true). “I like Mike” because he’s a hardworking, humble and kind man who is focused on pocketbook issues like increasing the minimum wage. However, there are others who support Eliot Cutler, not simply because he and his wife are fabulous ballroom dancers (I bet you didn’t know that), but because they like his policies and vision for the state.
As a (dare I say) outspoken legislator, I’ve been called upon numerous times to call for Cutler to leave the race. That’s a decision he needs to make in and of his own right. It’s not a call I’ll make, because I frankly believe that our democracy is better with a strong marketplace of ideas. When more people’s voices are heard, more voters get engaged, and — as messy as it can be — we are better for it.
Maine has a strong independent streak, something we’re fiercely proud of. As it stands, our current election system is not designed to account for multiple candidates, like we often have. The current system is outdated for a world of choice. Every salad bar comes with multiple dressing options; why shouldn’t every election come with multiple candidates?
It’s time for a better election system. It’s time for ranked choice voting.
Instead of just voting for a first-choice candidate, voters would be able to have a second and third choice. Michaud supporters could vote for Cutler as their second choice and vice versa. In short, you can actively champion your favorite person without ensuring the electorate’s least-favorite candidate wins.
I’ve introduced some version of ranked choice voting in each of my three terms, and I intend to do so again if I am re-elected. Each year, we get a little bit closer to passing legislation to put us on a path toward a more rational election system. We haven’t gotten there yet at the state level, but we’ve made progress locally.
Ranked choice voting was endorsed by Portland voters, and it worked remarkably well when our lovely city voted in its first popularly elected mayor in 88 years, Michael Brennan. In fact, we had 15 candidates running for that seat — and yet no spoiler effect!
And no mudslinging.
Instead of debating who was more capable of winning, mayoral candidates debated their vision for the future of Portland. That’s right — we had a debate about ideas.
Further, instead of throwing mud at fellow opponents who might share some of their views, candidates had to appeal to their opponents’ voters. Michael Brennan couldn’t risk alienating supporters of Dave Marshall or Ethan Strimling because he might have needed those supporters to vote for him as their second choice. Instead of the “attack, attack, attack!” mentality we see out of our ads and debates, candidates were thanking each other for their service, and complimenting each others’ ideas. (You read that right.)
Politics as usual has taken a dark, vicious tone as of late, leaving many of us looking for “a better way.” Maine Citizens for Clean Elections is asking us this fall to (again) look at reforming our campaign finance laws as one means to transform our democracy for the better. I wholeheartedly agree with that work. We also must address the fundamental flaw in our all-or-nothing election system that limits our choice of credible candidates, increases mudslinging and ensures minority rule.
Mainers deserve vibrant elections about ideas and vision — real choice, instead of campaigns about polls and spoiler effects. Ranked choice voting is the clear choice to bring that vision to reality.
Democratic Rep. Diane Russell represents Munjoy Hill and downtown Portland in the Maine House of Representatives. Follow her on Twitter @MissWrite.