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Ranked Choice Voting and What It Means

Ranked Choice Voting and What It Means

This November, Mainers will have the opportunity to vote whether to adopt what is known as “ranked choice voting.”

Question 5 on the ballot reads as follows:

“Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?”

If adopted by Maine voters, this new law would, in theory, prevent a situation in which a candidate wins a state election with less than a majority of the vote. For example, recent elections for governor resulted in the winner becoming the governor with less than 50% support.

Consider the following scenario: In a three-way race for U.S. Senator from Maine, the votes are as follows:

Candidate A                  45%
Candidate B                  43%
Candidate C                  12%

Under existing Maine law, a bare plurality of votes is all that is required to win an election, and Candidate A would be deemed the winner.

However, among voters for Candidate C, let’s say the strong majority prefers Candidate B over Candidate A. In other words, but for Candidate C being in the race, in all likelihood Candidate B would have won the election. Ranked choice voting takes this into account by eliminating the last place finisher, looking at the second choices of the voters who voted for the eliminated candidate, and reallocating their votes to the remaining candidates. For example, let’s assume that of the 12% of votes for Candidate C, 75% of them (9% of the overall vote) would prefer Candidate B over Candidate A, with the remainder preferring Candidate A (3% of the overall vote). Expanding on our previous scenario:

Rank:                                    1                  2

Candidate A                  45%                  3%
Candidate B                  43%                  9%
Candidate C                  12%

With ranked choice voting, Candidate B would be declared the winner with 52% of the vote, having picked up another 9% after Candidate C was eliminated.

Whether you find this ballot question particularly urgent may depend on whom you supported in the last gubernatorial election. Whichever way you choose to vote on Question 5, remember, it works both ways!