I agree that Maine’s politicians should garner a majority vote to be elected to office, a situation that has not happened in many of the races for governor in recent decades.
But the way to do that is with runoff elections, not ranked choice voting.
Ranked choice voting, as described by Dick Woodbury in a Jan. 26 BDN OpEd, is neither practical nor realistic. It is presented as better than a runoff vote a couple of weeks after the usual November election because it supposedly avoids “the delay, expense and drop in participation of requiring voters to go back to the polls.”
None of these arguments holds water.
The first fallacy is that RCV “uses a vote counting process that is identical to holding runoff elections.” How is it in any way identical? How exactly would our votes, cast here in Dixmont on paper ballots, be counted on election night? Would we assume that a majority would not be reached in any three-or-more candidate races, and count all the columns on these new multi-columned ballots before we packed it in after a very long night? Would we count only the first choice on these ballots, seal the ballots and, depending on statewide totals, come back the next day to count again? Or would we pack up the ballots and send them off to Augusta to be counted?
As for saving money, the Secretary of State’s office pegged the first year cost of implementing ranked-choice voting in Maine at nearly $1 million ($910,000). “More than 80 percent of that cost will go toward the cost of implementing the new system, including updates and leasing new ballot tabulating machines and the hiring of two temporary law enforcement officers to oversee tabulation,” the BDN reported in October. “The remaining money will be used by state police to pay for overtime and fuel associated with the secure transportation of ballots to and from a central tabulation location.”
The next “key point” laid out in Woodbury’s OpEd is that “your ballot already indicates who you would choose in a runoff election.” No it does not. In a race that has, say, five candidates, my first three choices might be for Nos. 3, then 4, then 5. If the two top candidates turn out to be Nos. 1 and 2, my RCV ballot most assuredly would not reflect the choice I would make in a runoff election a few weeks later that offered a choice between only those two top candidates.
And, it is highly presumptuous to contend that my second choice would not change between election night and a runoff vote two weeks later. I would argue the opposite. Unlike RCV, a runoff election would allow time for exposure to skullduggery late in the election cycle (Saturday night surprise, anyone?). A runoff vote would allow all voters, including early and absentee, time to process new information for the second round. An RCV ballot precludes that.
Both runoff voting and RCV share the benefits of a majority vote winner and claims of credibility and mandate.
The other benefits listed for RCV are simplistic or simply wishful thinking:
1. A runoff election is a “delay” only for the instant-gratification crowd. Better to do it right. Many states and foreign countries have runoff elections. What’s the rush?
2. Far from eliminating strategic voting, RCV actually requires it. That is precisely what ranking candidates is all about.
3. In multi-candidate races, there will always be calls that someone was a “spoiler,” whether you agree with the label or not.
4. We all want campaigns to be more civil and respectful, but I don’t see how RCV will magically make that happen.
5. And how exactly would RCV force a change in media coverage away from polling and electability to a focus on issues, vision and experience?
Finally, Maine usually leads the country in voter participation. There is no evidence that Maine would see a “drop in participation” for a second trip to the polls. On the contrary, since runoff elections would add excitement to the election process, I wouldn’t be surprised if more Maine voters showed up at the polls in a second round — particularly if runoff elections also included multi-candidate legislative and state Senate races that do not end up with a majority.
Run-off elections are simple and direct. Votes can be cast on paper ballots and counted by human beings in their local towns.
Yes, my vote is for majority winners, and runoff elections as needed to get us there.
Jean Hay Bright of Dixmont is a semi-retired writer and organic farmer. A federal candidate in three Democratic primaries (two of them five-way races), in 2006 she was the last Democrat to run against former Sen. Olympia Snowe.