Mainers will go to the polls on Nov. 6 for congressional, state, county and local elections. For the first time, congressional elections will be decided by ranked-choice voting, raising questions about the process and this year’s election in general.
The BDN asked readers to submit their questions about how elections this year would work. Here are answers to questions submitted by BDN readers:
— In ranked-choice voting, can I vote for the same person three times?
You can, but your first choice is the only one that would count. Voting for the same candidate more than once still counts as only one vote. If your first choice is eliminated as part of the ranking process, your second and third choices will not be counted if you picked the same candidate for those slots.
Click here for a primer on ranked-choice voting, which will apply in U.S. House and U.S. Senate elections on Nov. 6.
— Where can I get a PDF sample ballot of the 2018 election?
Most municipal clerks’ offices have samples of ballots you can look at in person, and some will post PDF samples available on their town or city websites. Click here to see an example of a local ballot in Augusta and here for a state ballot.
— What referendum(s) and bond issue(s) will be on the state ballot?
There are five questions on the state ballot. For an overview, click here.
A citizen initiative, Question 1, asks whether Maine voters want to enact a 3.8 percent tax on wages and nonwage income above the amount subject to Social Security taxes — $128,400 in 2018 — to pay for a Universal Home Care Program for seniors and people with disabilities.
Voters also will decide whether to support four state bond questions, plus any local referendums in their own municipalities. The bond questions ask to borrow $200 million to reconstruct some of Maine’s aging roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure; to renovate and upgrade buildings and programming at the University of Maine and community college systems; and to repair or replace a backlog of failing wastewater treatment systems.
— Why doesn’t Maine have a stronger voter identification law? What would stop someone from voting who isn’t even a citizen?
Voters in Maine have never been required to show an ID at the polls, but first-time voters still need to show a valid ID and proof of address when they register to vote.
The state carries some of the more relaxed voter ID laws in the country, largely due to its long history of fraud-free elections. This point was concluded in a 2013 state-commissioned elections report, which found that Maine “enjoys a credible, well-administered elections system.”
More than 30 states have voter ID laws on the books, though, and Gov. Paul LePage and fellow Republicans have long advocated to enact something similar in Maine. In January, LePage, echoing past sentiments, said it wasn’t “unreasonable” to ask voters to show an ID as a “simple way to safeguard the most sacred right we have in our democracy.”
Maine lawmakers have attempted to pass voter ID bills at least 10 times since the mid-1990s.
— How do you vote for a write-in candidate?
This one’s simple. Say you want to vote for a write-in candidate for governor. On the the ballot (here’s a sample) under the four candidate names listed, there will be a fifth option for a “Write-in.” Simply fill in the bubble to the right of this option, and write the name of the person you wish to vote for in the space provided. If the excitement of democracy causes you to temporarily forget these instructions while you’re in the voting booth on Election Day, don’t worry. The process will be explained at the top of the ballot.
One more crucial thing to note: Your write-in vote on the state ballot only counts if the candidate registered as a write-in with the secretary of state’s election office. The deadline for write-in candidate registration was in September. N ine people qualify as write-in options this November. If you write in someone who did not register, your ballot for that race will be counted as blank.
— Why is outside spending legal, and do local candidates have any control over what outside groups say to support them or criticize their opponents?
Outside spending is the dominant engine behind federal and state campaigns after a landmark 2010 Citizens United decision from the U.S. Supreme Court striking down governmental limits on political spending by corporations, nonprofits and unions. Nothing major in Maine law changed after that decision, but the national environment radically changed.
The decision took limits off of outside money, but it didn’t affect direct donations to campaigns themselves. For example, Maine has contribution limits for state races, but party committees can gather unlimited sums of money and spend it on ads to help get their candidates elected.
This has given those committees outsized impact on elections because it’s much more efficient.
For example, the three remaining Maine gubernatorial candidates had raised less than $6 million by Oct. 23, while outside groups were about to crest $10 million on Monday.
The answer to the second question is no — with exceptions. Super PACs — the federally registered groups that arose from the Citizens United decision — can spend unlimited amounts to influence races, but they can’t give to candidates or coordinate with them. Regular political action committees can give limited amounts to candidates.
There are no super PACs in Maine, but this works similarly here. PACs and party committees can take unlimited amounts and spend it to support or oppose candidates, but they can only donate limited amounts to candidates. Party committees are allowed to coordinate certain communications with candidates, but other coordination is subject to campaign finance limits.
BDN State House reporter Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.
Questions have been lightly edited for clarity.
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