May 31, 2020
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Portland voters will decide whether to expand ranked-choice voting

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Portland City Hall in 2012. Portland voters will decide Tuesday, March 3, whether to expand ranked-choice voting to include city council and school board elections in addition to mayoral votes as currently used.

PORTLAND, Maine — Voters here will have an opportunity on Tuesday to expand the use of ranked-choice voting in its municipal elections. The method allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, reapportioning the second and third choices of voters who favored the lowest-placed candidates, which reduces the likelihood of “spoilers.”

Currently, the method is used to determine the city mayor, a role that has been decided by election since 2011. If passed, ranked-choice voting, or RCV, would be used for future city council and school board races as well.

“Ranked-choice voting allows us to ensure a winning candidate has the support of the majority of voters, even in a crowded field, like last November’s District 3 Council race,” said Anna Kellar, spokesperson for Fair Elections Portland.

More than 6,000 Portland voters signed a petition circulated by Fair Elections Portland last summer to expand RCV across municipal elections. The effort came about 75 signatures shy of the 6,655 needed to get on the ballot last summer, but city officials accepted the petition anyway, citing a higher threshold compared to previous years and 300 disputed signatures that could have broken either way.

At a city council meeting last fall, Kellar indicated that landing the ballot question on the presidential primary ballot was preferable than putting it on the June ballot, when turnout is typically lower.

“It’s a credit to the city council to put the question on the March ballot,” Kellar said in November. “Voter turnout is crucial.”

It would need the support of at least 30 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the previous election, a threshold needed to amend the city charter.

The vote will be the only question on Portland’s municipal ballot on Tuesday. Maine’s Democratic presidential primary vote, along with other “Super Tuesday” states, will still be determined by traditional ballot.

At the state level, RCV could be ready to go by November’s general election.

In January, Gov. Janet Mills allowed an act that would implement RCV for presidential primary and general elections, LD 1083, to become law without her signature. In a memo to the state Legislature, she wrote that RCV “gives voters a greater voice” and “encourages civility among campaigns and candidates at a time when such civility is sorely needed.”

Mills held the bill until the Legislature returned in January, which ensured that the Senate would not have enough time to appropriate funds to the effort in time for the March primary vote. The cost and logistics would be too great to implement the change this winter, she said.

Maine voters authorized the expansion of RCV in 2016. It was used in Congressional elections and state primaries in 2018, and decided the race in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018, when Democrat Jared Golden edged out incumbent Bruce Poliquin, a Republican.

RCV may be used on ballot questions in other Maine municipalities, said a spokesperson from the Secretary of State. Election information for towns and cities can be found at a website run by OpenMaine, a civic tech initiative.

A people’s veto effort to repeal the law enabling RCV in presidential elections was launched by Maine Republicans in February. It is still in the process of gathering signatures.

 


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