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Our View: Another argument against ranked-choice voting goes down

Ben Bragdon :: Press Herald
As the latest federal ruling shows, the idea that Maine voters are disenfranchised is wrong....



Our View: Another argument against ranked-choice voting goes down

As the latest federal ruling shows, the idea that Maine voters are disenfranchised is wrong.

The Editorial Board

Ranked-choice voting has twice won the backing of a majority of Maine voters. It meets the demands of the U.S. Constitution. It is used in every race that the state constitution allows, and it will continue to be until the Legislature or the people say otherwise.

That’s the upshot of a decision last week in U.S. District Court, where Judge Lance Walker denied a request by four Maine voters – backed by state and national Republicans – to prohibit the use of ranked-choice voting in the U.S. Senate election in November.

The plaintiffs were three registered Republicans and an independent. In trying to set aside the ranked-choice law approved twice at the polls, they argued in part that Maine voters who decline to rank candidates, out of either confusion or dislike of the law , are given less of a voice in the election than those who do, and thus are essentially disenfranchised.

We hear this argument a lot. As Walker’s ruling shows, it’s hogwash.

In a ranked-choice election, voters are allowed, but not required, to rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives more than 50 percent in the first round of voting, that candidate wins. If not, the candidates with the lowest number of votes are removed and their votes are redistributed according to each voter’s preferences until one candidate achieves a majority.

It is almost exactly like a runoff election, in which the top two vote-getters face each other alone in an election, except with ranked-choice voting, the later round is held without another trip to the polls.

As Walker noted in his decision , runoff elections are held regularly throughout the country without a peep of controversy, even though it is typical for fewer voters to participate in the later round than to cast votes in the initial election.

That’s their choice, just as every Maine voter is given the choice to rank or not rank the candidates as they please. Under ranked-choice voting, no one is forced to vote for a candidate they don’t support, and no one is obligated to vote for anything other than their first choice.

And no one’s vote is taken from them. If a voter’s top preference fails to get enough support and is dropped in subsequent rounds, the only way the voter loses their vote is if they choose not rank any further candidates – if they choose not to cast a vote in that round, just as a voter chooses not to go to the polls for a runoff election.

In the case of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs (all men) chose to participate in different ways in the 2018 2nd Congressional District election , in which Democrat Jared Golden beat Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin. One ranked all candidates with Poliquin first. Another put Poliquin in every spot. A third voted only for Poliquin first.

Each made his choice for his own reasons. In the end, because each man’s top choice finished in the top two, each delivered one vote for Poliquin in each round. No one’s vote was stolen, and no one’s voice was compromised.

Ranked-choice voting is a change , and that has raised some hackles.

But that’s also why it has the support of a majority of Mainers, many of whom believe it will improve campaigns and elect candidates who better match the electorate.

Perhaps at some point, Mainers will decide that ranked-choice voting has not lived up to its promises. But it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon – Republicans this year tried to put a referendum on ranked choice on the Nov. 3 ballot, but failed to find enough support .

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