Like it or not, ranked choice voting is here

By Ann Luther

Mainers will be casting their ballots using ranked choice voting in the June 12 party primaries. Some of us may be happy about that; some of us, not so much.

Some are hoping that RCV will become the way we do elections in Maine. Some are hoping this will be the last time we try it. That debate is going on right now and will probably continue beyond the June election, whatever the outcome.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Mainers will be casting our ballots in the June primaries using ranked choice voting, and those results will stick. Some candidates will move on to the November general election, and some will go home. Ultimately, the electoral decision about who will represent us in key offices begins in the primaries, where voters have the power to nominate candidates for the November general election.

Elections matter. Let’s get this right.

Based on the candidates who have qualified for the ballot so far, we will have ranked choice voting in these races:

  • Republican and Democratic primaries for governor.
  • Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District.
  • Republican primary for state representative in District 75 (Turner, Leeds, Livermore).

Let’s all make sure that we voters have the information we need to participate fully and effectively in these primaries.

That starts with the candidates, of course. Because we will have a chance to rank our preferences in these primary races, we will want to know something about more of the candidates — not just the one we like best. If you have a chance to meet the candidates at a forum or public event, go! This newspaper and other print media will be giving the candidates good coverage. Read the paper! Check out broadcast and social media. Talk to your friends.

Not enrolled in a party? Maine has a closed primary system. You must be enrolled in a party to participate in the primary. If you are not enrolled, you can enroll in a party up to and including on Election Day to vote in the primary. If you are already enrolled in a party, you can change your party enrollment if you do it at least 15 days before the election. Once enrolled, you must remain in that party for 90 days, but you can unenroll after that or change to another party.

Finally, think about how to cast your ranked choice ballot.

With RCV, after all the ballots are in, we’ll tally first choices. If no candidate wins an outright majority based on first choices, the least popular candidate is eliminated. If that candidate was your first choice, your vote will count for your second choice candidate. This process is repeated until one candidate receives a majority.

You don’t have to vote for more than one candidate, but please consider using all your choices when you cast your ballot. It won’t hurt your favorite candidate to pick a second and third choice. Your first choice will always count as long as that candidate is still in the running.

Some people may be tempted to rank the same candidate first, second and third. This is called a “bullet vote.” It does not help your candidate, and it wastes your chance to weigh in on the other candidates. Remember, your first choice will always count as long as that candidate is still in the running.

To make sure your preference is fully expressed and that your preferences matter to the final outcome, you should rank as many candidates as you know or have an opinion about. In fact, you may be able to rank as many of six candidates in some races. Look for sample ballots around the middle of April. You can find sample ballots for your state and federal elections here: Print off the sample ballot and try it out.

We’ve launched a new project at Maine Uses Ranked Choice Voting: If you have a question, call or email and we will be happy to answer. Stay tuned to this website for more information. We are also available to do presentations to your community group free of charge.

The June 12 primary is the first statewide partisan primary election in the country to be decided by ranked choice voting. This is an exciting milestone, and the entire country is watching Maine.

Ranked choice voting is here, and it is up to all of us to make the most of it.

Ann Luther is a resident of Trenton and past president of the League of Women Voters of Maine.

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