Ranked choice voting: Another interpretation

Claims by the editor of The Ellsworth American that ranked choice voting is “complicated and eventually could force a constitutional confrontation” are doing an injustice to this needed reform. Ranked choice voting will be on this November’s ballot as referendum Question 5.

Contrarily, this simple, common sense reform would enhance our rights by putting power back into our hands as voters, so politicians are elected more broadly, and thus more accountable to all their constituents. This nonpartisan reform will go a long way toward ending the turmoil that we have witnessed in Augusta in recent years. Importantly, a candidate in ranked choice voting elections would be the winner elected by a majority of voters who participate. It is well documented that nine of the last 11 gubernatorial races were won with less than 40 percent of the vote.

Briefly defined, under ranked choice voting, voters would rank candidates in order of their individual preferences in races with more than two candidates. If no candidate receives an outright majority, one or more rounds of “instant runoffs” are conducted in which last-place candidates lose until one candidate receives a majority and wins. If your first choice is eliminated at any point during the counting process, your ballot is instantly transferred to your second choice. No vote is wasted.

The editorial warns that ranked choice voting may create a system for “voting against a candidate” and rhetorically asks what ever happened to “May the best person win.” Under our current voting system, we’re voting against candidates all the time. Ranked choice voting gives us the freedom to vote for our favorite candidates without being forced to choose between the lesser of two distasteful, highly partisan choices. Under ranked choice voting, candidates would run more civil campaigns in order to appeal for broader public support — seeking second choice rankings from voters who like another candidate better.

As for the editorial claim that RCV is “complicated,” it is no more complicated than having to choose something from an appetizer or dessert menu in a restaurant. We rank choices in our everyday lives. Professor of Government L. Sandy Maisel of Colby College noted that a number of studies “in many places [with Ranked Choice Voting], show that voters quickly understand [and] have little difficulty in ranking candidates.” (Bangor Daily News, 8/16/16).

The editorial argues that no state has instituted ranked choice voting, implying, therefore, neither should Maine. But, where’s the logic in that? Our motto is “Dirigo,” Latin for “I lead,” not “I follow.” Maine wouldn’t be the first state to use ranked choice voting in a statewide election. North Carolina has already done it and a dozen cities across the country already use ranked choice voting, including Portland, Maine.

Notably, part of the editorial opposition is that ranked choice voting “eventually could force a constitutional confrontation.” The truth is, any bill passed by Maine citizens or the legislature can be challenged on constitutional grounds, and this commonly happens. That is the precedent and reality. So, should a possible constitutional challenge be a deterrent to the people doing what is right? No!

Politicians in Augusta won’t fix our broken system. Meaningful election reform will only happen if the people demand it.

Ranked choice voting promotes campaigns that are about issues — not polling and viability. If Question 5 is approved, voters will have the power to express their opinions about more than one candidate, knowing they are not “throwing [their] vote away.” This legislation encourages candidates to be civil and seek the broadest public support. It will restore the principle of majority rule and make our representatives more accountable to the voting public to help end political polarization and gridlock.

Ranked choice voting is nonpartisan legislation well worth your support. Please join me in voting “Yes” on Question 5 on Election Day.

John Bradford is a former Massachusetts Republican state representative (1985-92) and has been politically active in Maine since 2004. Now registered as an independent, he and his wife live in Orland.

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