Robert Gray steps out of the voting booth after he filling out his ballot at the Brewer Auditorium in 2017. Credit: Gabor Degre

When Mainers go to the polls Tuesday, they’ll make Maine the first state in nation to use ranked-choice voting in statewide and congressional primary elections.

At the same time, they’ll decide whether to put use of the voting method on pause — perhaps dealing a fatal blow that could end its use for good.

The Committee on Ranked-Choice Voting and the Maine Secretary of State’s Office have been conducting public education campaigns so Mainers will know what to expect in the voting booth.

We’ve written about it often since a citizen initiative placed the question on the November 2016 state ballot. You can read all about ranked-choice voting in Maine by clicking here. For those pressed for time, here’s one more quick explainer:

What is ranked-choice voting?

It’s an alternative to plurality elections — which are when whoever receives the most votes wins, even if they don’t earn a majority of all votes — that was enacted by referendum in 2016. There have been a number of legislative and judicial challenges to the law, but it has survived and will be used on Tuesday in the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries, the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary and the Republican primary in Maine House District 75, which includes Leeds, Turner and part of Livermore. Ranked-choice voting is used only when there are three or more candidates.

How does it work?

Voters can rank as many of the candidates as they wish as their first, second and third choices, and so on. If no candidate receives a majority of all votes cast, the last-place candidate is eliminated from contention. The ballots from voters who ranked that candidate first are re-examined and all of their second-choice votes are added to the first-round totals. This continues until a candidate receives a majority of all votes cast and is declared the winner.

What will the ballots look like?

The ballots have the candidates listed vertically, each followed by a row of ovals. Voters pick their top choice by filling in the oval that appears to the right of the candidate’s name and directly beneath “1st Choice,” their 2nd choice with the oval under “2nd Choice,” and so on. There is also room to write in a name that does not appear on the ballot. You can see the Democratic gubernatorial ballot here, the Republican gubernatorial ballot here, the 2nd Congressional District Republican ballot here and the House District 75 Republican ballot here.

Question: Does everyone have to use ranked-choice voting?

No. You can vote for any number of candidates, including just one. If your candidate is eliminated in ranked-choice tallying, your ballot won’t be used again in subsequent rounds of counting.

Question: What if I make a mistake, skip a ranking or rank two candidates the same?

Overvote: This is when a voter gives two candidates the same rank. When this happens, those votes and subsequent votes for that election will be invalidated.

Single skipped ranking: If you skip a ranking, such as ranking candidates, 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th, skipping 2nd, the skipped ranking will be ignored during tallying and all other ranked votes will be used in order.

Two skipped rankings: If you skip two or more rankings, your ballot will be disqualified for all votes after the skipped rankings.

Duplicate rankings for the same candidate: If you mark more than one rank for a single candidate, such as both 1st and 3rd for Jane Doe, a number of things could happen to your ballot. If you’ve voted for only one candidate, your ballot will count. If you’ve voted for more than one candidate, including the one you ranked more than once, your ballot could be disqualified or counted, depending on whether the candidate who received duplicate rankings is defeated.

Question: What if there’s a tie?

A tie is possible in two scenarios. The two top-place finishers could tie and so could the last-place finishers in any round of counting. If this happens, the secretary of state’s office would choose the loser “by lot,” which means through a coin toss.

So what’s with this ‘people’s veto’?

Since the passage of ranked-choice voting by referendum in 2016, there have been attempts in the Legislature to alter or eliminate it. Part of the opposition stems from the fact that the Maine Constitution says general elections for state offices are to be decided by plurality voting. Lawmakers were unable to garner enough support to either repeal the 2016 law or ask Maine voters to amend the Constitution. In October 2017, the Legislature approved what was seen as a compromise law that calls for the constitutional issue to be corrected by December 2021 or ranked-choice voting will be repealed.

After legislators passed that law, ranked-choice voting advocates conducted a people’s veto campaign to repeal it and revert to the law originally passed by voters. They collected more than 61,000 signatures to put the question on the June 12 ballot.

Question 1 on the June 12 ballot reads as follows: “Do you want to reject the parts of a new law that would delay the use of ranked-choice voting in the election of candidates for any state or federal office until 2022, and then retain the method only if the constitution is amended by December 1, 2021, to allow ranked-choice voting for candidates in state elections?”

Advocates of ranked-choice voting as presented to voters on the November 2016 ballot question encourage Mainers to vote “yes,” while people who oppose ranked-choice voting urge a “no” vote.

What about the general election in November?

It depends on what happens with the people’s veto. If the veto is successful, meaning there are more “yes” votes, ranked-choice voting will be used in congressional races in the general election in which there are three or more candidates, but not legislative or gubernatorial races. If the “no” votes prevail, plurality voting will be used in all cases in the general election.

Still unclear on the concept?

If all this still leaves you confused, email and we’ll try to help. Or watch this video on repeat until the polls open.

For a roundup of Maine political news, click here for the Daily Brief. Click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.