Many Mainers saw a blue bus carrying Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen as it went up and down Interstate 95 on Friday and Saturday while she and fellow longshots target the state’s ranked-choice voting system.
The Maine Legislature expanded the system to presidential elections last year, but the 2020 election may be a muted political experiment. A national survey last week from Monmouth University pegged just 2 percent of voters undecided in the bitter election in which President Donald Trump is running behind Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
There are early signs that trend may hold in Maine, but third-party candidates are bullish on the potential effect of ranked-choice voting.
Maine has a historic independent streak in presidential races. Billionaire independent Ross Perot won 30 percent of votes here in 1992 for his best finish in any state while four longshots combined to win 55,000 votes here in 2016.
Three such candidates will appear on Maine’s ballot this year — Jorgensen, a 63-year-old academic from Illinois, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, an activist from New York, and California businessman and perennial candidate Rocky De La Fuente of the Alliance Party.
Jorgensen’s party champions civil liberties and limited government. Hawkins’ platform includes provisions like a $20 minimum wage, universal rent control, Medicare for All and an “ecosocialist” Green New Deal. The Alliance Party calls itself “the political arm of a nationwide movement to elect public servants who will end corruption, stagnation and partisan politics.”
All have prioritized Maine in recent weeks, but Jorgensen was the first to campaign here with stops in South Portland, Bangor, Lewiston and Bethel. On Saturday, a crowd of roughly 125 greeted her on the Bangor Waterfront to hear a case that centered on ranked-choice voting.
Partisans often rail against third-party candidates as “spoilers” in the kinds of plurality elections that ranked-choice voting was passed to fight. In ranked-choice elections, voters choose multiple candidates in order of their preference. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of total votes, the last-place finisher is eliminated and the second choices of their voters are reallocated to the remaining candidates. The process continues until a majority is won.
“Everywhere we go,” Jorgensen told her Bangor crowd, “we hear about wasted vote syndrome.”
“With ranked-choice voting, you get to vote for what you really want, but then you also get to have your fear vote,” she said.
Before Maine’s high court stood by an earlier decision to throw out a Republican people’s veto challenge against the law expanding the voting method to presidential elections, the Alliance Party filed a brief asking it to do exactly that.
The Maine Republican Party asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to review that ruling in a move that could theoretically lead to ranked-choice voting being nullified for the presidential election, but it is the law for now and ballots using the method have already been distributed.
Jorgensen’s visit came the same week that Hawkins’ team sent an email pitching interviews with him to Maine reporters. Speaking by phone his way to an event in New Jersey on Friday afternoon, Hawkins called Maine a priority state he hopes to visit soon. His party is the only third party recognized in Maine right now after Libertarians lost their brief party status here in 2018.
“Better for you to vote for what you want and don’t get it than to vote for what you don’t want and have your voice be silenced,” the Green nominee said.
Not surprisingly, supporters of these candidates cite an aversion to the status quo. Allen Esposito, chair of the Penobscot County Libertarians, said he believes in Jorgensen as an alternative to what he believes are abuses of power from Republicans and Democrats.
“I’m voting for Mama Jo because I want my future stepson to realize that men who abuse power do not deserve power,” Esposito said.