AUGUSTA, Maine — A narrow majority of Maine voters wants the use of ranked-choice voting expanded to state elections, although Democrats and Republicans are predictably split on the issue, according to exit polling conducted by the Bangor Daily News.
The voting method — which Maine used statewide in Nov. 6 congressional races for the first time in U.S. history — was approved by voters in 2016 and green-lighted for last week’s election in a June referendum despite conflicts with the Maine Constitution that kept it from being used in 2018 general elections for governor and the Legislature.
Nearly 53.4 percent of exit poll respondents wanted ranked-choice voting expanded to more elections including the governor’s race. Another 39.1 percent wanted to stop using ranked-choice voting altogether, while 7.5 percent wanted to only use it in races it is used in now, according to a survey of 1,015 voters in 15 cities and towns on Election Day.
Here are the top lessons we learned about Mainers’ opinions of ranked-choice voting in the exit poll, which was funded and analyzed by FairVote, an electoral reform group that supports ranked-choice voting, and done in consultation with Colby College political scientists.
Democratic enthusiasm seems to be stronger than Republican antipathy for ranked-choice voting. Amid that 53.4 percent majority in the poll that wanted to expand the use of the voting method are stark partisan divisions. Nearly 81 percent of Democrats wanted to expand ranked-choice voting and 72 percent of Republicans wanted to stop using it altogether.
Unenrolled and other voters fell about squarely in the middle of the parties, with just under 54 percent of independent and other voters backing expansion. Only 14 percent of Democrats wanted to stop using the method altogether, and 6 percent of Republicans wanted to expand it.
This is no surprise, because the debate over ranked-choice voting has often been framed in partisan terms. The push for adoption came after Gov. Paul LePage’s 2010 and 2014 plurality elections for governor, though Gov.-elect Janet Mills, a Democrat, easily won the three-way race to succeed him in Tuesday’s election with a majority despite only needing a plurality to win.
The 53.4 percent majority mirrors the slim margins that backed ranked-choice voting in the 2016 and June 2018 referendums. The method was enshrined by 52.1 percent of Maine voters two years ago and upheld in June by 53.8 percent of voters.
Expanding the use of the method in 2019 is unlikely. Mills has said she would back a constitutional amendment to apply it to state general elections and she will have Democratic majorities in each legislative chamber, but Republicans could still withhold the necessary two-thirds votes in both legislative chambers to move a proposed amendment to voters.
Despite that partisan gulf, bipartisan majorities found ranking choices to be easy and value majority elections. News from the exit poll wasn’t all hyperpartisan around ranked-choice voting. More than 74 percent of people said ranking choices was either somewhat or very easy, compared with 10 percent who said it was either somewhat or very hard, though 12.1 percent of Republicans called it very hard to just 2.6 percent of Democrats.
There was also widespread support for majority winners in the poll. Overall, 62.2 percent called a majority winner “very important” with a smaller partisan gap — 72.9 percent of Democrats to 52.8 percent of Republicans. Another 18.7 percent of Republicans called it “not at all important.”
The poll was weighted by age and gender to match Maine’s electorate. It was conducted by students at eight Maine universities and colleges in 15 municipalities among a randomly selected group on Election Day. The pollsters were Nina Mahaleris and Nick Gillert in Bangor, Aaron Lee and Allison Emery in Cumberland, Andrew Blunt in Topsham, Paul Riley in Buxton, Terry Ziccardi in Arundel, Sophie Kaplan in Owls Head, Samantha Clark in Chelsea, Alyce McFadden in Vassalboro, Thomas Young in Jay, Quinn Galletta in Lincoln, Molly Riportella in Sidney, Becca Pelletier in Searsport, Kevin Fitzpatrick in Southwest Harbor, Liam Brinkler in Rangeley and Lucas Dwornik in Kingfield.
Correction: More than 74 percent of people in the exit poll said ranking choices was either somewhat or very easy, not 75 percent. It was a reporter’s error.