PORTLAND, Maine — Voters in Portland approved a measure to expand the use of ranked-choice voting in city elections by a wide margin in Tuesday’s election.
The referendum passed with 80 percent of the vote, with eight precincts reporting Tuesday night. The municipal ballot result amends the city charter and expands ranked-choice voting to city council and school board races effective in November 2020. The Bangor Daily News called the race at 9:34 p.m. after the number of votes passed a required threshold to take effect.
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The result could add momentum to the expansion of ranked-choice voting initiatives in the state, which emerged from an effort to apply the voting system to gubernatorial, legislative and congressional races that voters passed in a statewide referendum in 2016.
The Portland City Council voted in November to put the referendum question on the March 3 ballot after a petition circulated last summer by Fair Elections Portland, a voter education advocacy group, gathered more than 6,500 Portland voters, exceeding the threshold needed to open an amendment to the city charter of 30 percent of voters who cast ballots in the previous election.
The result could have an immediate impact on municipal elections in races of more than two candidates. Anna Kellar of Fair Elections Portland said that the expansion will incentivize candidates to talk about issues they have in common in order to secure second-choice votes, which will help their supporters find common ground after the election is over.
Kellar said that she expected that voters would feel better voting to expand ranked-choice voting because it helps increase the chances that they’d vote for candidates they’re most excited about without worrying that they would be “somehow splitting their vote.”
“Putting an end to that kind of strategic voting and ‘the spoiler effect’ is a real advantage to voters,” Kellar said Tuesday.
Portland has chosen its mayor using ranked-choice ballots since the position was moved to a popularly elected one in 2011, when Michael Brennan emerged as the winner from a 15-candidate race. Maine’s Tuesday primary for the Democratic presidential nomination was conducted by traditional ballot.
Gov. Janet Mills let a bill that would expand ranked-choice voting for presidential elections become law in January, and has indicated it could be in effect November — though state Republicans launched a people’s veto effort in February to reverse it. Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, reapportioning the second and third choices of voters who favored the lowest-placed candidates.
“It seems like a more efficient way of getting a candidate most people like,” said Sam Kilbreth, a 40-year-old broadcast producer said outside his polling precinct in Portland’s West End.