Heidi Peckham, Maine's assistant elections director, center, handles sealed envelopes from towns that use tabulators for voting during ranked-choice voting tabulations at a state office building in Augusta on Nov. 15, 2022. Credit: Rich Abrahamson / Watervile Morning Sentinel

We learned a lot about Maine politics through the state’s first-in-the-nation use of ranked-choice voting in the 2018 election. Now we have to teach others.

Two other states — Alaska and Nevada — have backed their own systems at the ballot box. The hotly contested political state of Arizona may vote on it in 2024.

Strident opposition from conservatives here is now manifesting elsewhere. Republicans in Arizona’s “Freedom Caucus” have introduced a bill to ban the voting method in their state as a preemptive strike on the ballot initiative.

The Republican case: Our first use of ranked-choice voting led to a rare outcome. Then-U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, had a first-round lead that was overcome by U.S. Rep. Jared Golden after the Democrat won an outsized share of second choices from voters who ranked at least one of two liberal-leaning independents first. 

Golden held the seat in 2020, then beat Poliquin in a 2022 rematch by expanding on a first-round lead through the ranking process. But national conservatives have focused heavily on that 2018 outcome. 

In urging states against adopting ranked-choice voting, the Foundation for Government Accountability, a national group led by former Maine lawmaker Tarren Bragdon, has said nearly 9,000 voters were “silenced” through ranking. The group is referring to voters who ranked independents but never made a choice between Golden and Poliquin. 

Their votes are documented in first-round totals and affected the ability of party candidates to reach a 50 percent threshold, but they did not factor into the choice between the party candidates. Opposition to ranked-choice voting also has been hitched to evidence of lower turnout in parts of the country, but turnout has remained strong in Maine.

What we learned: A partisan divide existed on it before Poliquin lost here. Exit polling on Election Day 2018 by the Bangor Daily News and the electoral reform group FairVote found most Democrats wanted it expanded while most Republicans wanted it stopped. 

Municipal clerks also here generally opposed it around then, although Republican clerks were far more stridently against it, according to a study involving two University of Maine political scientists. Yet the method still had majority support here. 

What’s next: After prominent Democrats joined Republicans to oppose the change in Nevada, including the state’s two U.S. senators, voters there narrowly backed it in 2022. They need to approve the measure again in 2024 for it to take effect two years later. 

Between there and Arizona, you can expect Maine arguments to take a big stage.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...