Not long after ranked choice voting, a people’s referendum, was approved by Maine voters in 2016, it was hauled into surgery by the Legislature. Lawmakers poked and probed and finally prescribed a constitutional amendment and, failing that, euthanasia.
But supporters came back with a people’s veto effort that restored ranked choice voting.
The Maine Attorney General’s Office conducted an examination and found a problem. So the Maine judiciary stepped in. Shortly thereafter, the Maine Senate asked to be consulted on the case.
Early on, proponents said ranked choice voting was the cure for electoral frustration. They also predicted ranked choice would promote heretofore unheard of civility among candidates. Given the heat and recriminations of the past couple of weeks, that sunny outlook may prove premature.
A referendum question whose wording is, if not complicated, open to interpretation, is not reassuring. As we lumber toward the June primary, can voters have confidence that RCV will yield unassailable results when it has been deemed unconstitutional in part, failed to pass muster in the Legislature and undergone scrutiny in the judiciary? Who doesn’t believe that losers in the upcoming elections won’t pursue time-consuming and costly recounts or further legal review over a squeaker? And when, really, will election results be announced? The next day? Days later? What will be the effect on voter confidence in Maine’s electoral process?
RCV supporters have worked hard and fairly for their cause, yet nowhere else in this country is ranked choice voting employed for statewide elections. It is an untested process fraught with unintended consequences. Nor is RCV a simple fix for the plurality voting system that has worked for over 140 years in Maine. Open primaries permitting unenrolled voters to participate or run-off elections would be far easier to manage and implement, and perhaps fairer to both candidates and voters.