July 19, 2018
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Ranked-choice voting can restore our democracy

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, speaks at a rally of supporters of ranked choice voting at the State House in Augusta, Feb. 2, 2018. The group delivered petitions aimed at thwarting a legislative delay and putting the voting system into place for state primaries in June.
By Dick Woodbury, Special to the BDN

So many of us are disheartened by turmoil in the world. We feel some profound loss in civility, community, economic fairness, human rights and institutional order. We seek ways to engage, fight back and regain control of our democracy. We attend marches, protests, forums and discussion groups with others who join us in communal mourning for the world we thought we knew.

Amid this uncertainty, I can’t tell you the number of people who point to our ranked-choice voting law as their precious window of hope and inspiration in an otherwise troubling world.

Ranked-choice voting was enacted following the most respectful, deliberative, positive and pure exercise of American democracy I’ve seen in my 16 years in Maine politics.

This model democratic process began with years of study by a thoughtful and nonpartisan working group, chaired by the League of Women Voters of Maine. The group analyzed different approaches to voting reform, developed processes of implementation and shaped the statutory language needed. They did this work not secretly or rushed, as legislatures often do these days, but through a painstakingly deliberative, researched, long-term, open and inclusive process.

Ranked-choice voting was advanced by this group because it responds to the real problems of our traditional voting system when there are three or more candidates on the ballot, which wasn’t always common, but sure is common now.

Ranked-choice voting was then brought to public referendum by a grass-roots movement of citizen volunteers who care deeply about democracy and majority rule. The policy was debated, deeply and thoroughly, in innumerable public forums over a nearly two-year period leading up to the referendum vote in an election year with a 73 percent voter turnout, one of the highest in Maine history. It was passed into law with the second most affirmative votes of any Maine referendum, ever.

What a contrast between this inspired expression of democracy by Maine people and the negative, dysfunctional and institutionally corrosive approach being used by our mainstream political institutions, particularly at the national level.

Given the subject of the ranked-choice voting law — the election of leaders in a democratic society — and the decade-long model democratic process Maine people used to enact it, the Legislature’s attempt to overturn it in a nighttime session in October was an offense to democracy.

But, thankfully, Mainers responded with the same perseverance and passion that has defined their every step in the process. They initiated a people’s veto, collected signatures in crazy winter weather and put ranked-choice voting back on the Maine lawbooks.

And as it turns out, the Legislature’s now routine disregard for citizen-initiated democracy has set the stage for reaffirming ranked-choice voting with all the more energy, positivity and conviction.

This June’s primary elections and people’s veto referendum are a big deal. They offer hope not just for Maine, but for Americans around the country who are disgusted with the political landscape nationally and yearn for a better path. Maine is poised to model that path.

Ranked-choice voting will be used on June 12 in the seven-candidate Democratic primary for governor, the four-candidate Republican primary for governor and the three-candidate Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District.

With ranked-choice voting, we won’t have to pick just one candidate to support. We won’t have to vote strategically, defensively or worry about our vote being wasted. We will have more voice and more choice in our democracy. And majority rule will be restored.

In this same June election, we will also vote on the people’s veto to protect ranked-choice voting. A “yes” vote retains ranked-choice voting for future elections, including the general election for federal offices in November.

My prediction is that voters will find ranked-choice voting simple to use, as they do in Portland and many other places already. I also predict that voters will so appreciate having more voice and more choice in their democracy that the people’s veto referendum will pass by an overwhelmingly larger majority than the original referendum that enacted ranked-choice voting.

But we, the people, get to decide this thing one way or the other. And we’ll cast that vote with intimate first-hand knowledge of how ranked-choice voting works, because we will be using it at the same time. How cool is that?

Dick Woodbury served for 10 years in the Maine Legislature, and chairs the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting.

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