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Maine’s adoption of ranked-choice voting has not been especially smooth. Part of the referendum that led to this new voting method in the state was found to be in conflict with the Maine Constitution, hence why we use ranked-choice in some elections but not others.
This partial implementation, which employs ranked-choice voting in gubernatorial primaries but not gubernatorial general elections and features ranked-choice voting for Maine’s federal office holders but not state lawmakers, is frustratingly bifurcated. Functionally, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
If Maine is going to keep using ranked-choice voting, it should be across the board and not in this confusing mix-and-match way. Such a change would require a state constitutional amendment to get rid of the plurality requirement for governor and state legislative offices.
Twice we argued against ranked-choice voting referendum questions in Maine. And twice the Maine people disagreed. Despite our reservations about ranked-choice voting, we are frustrated that the individuals and organizations pushing to now repeal it can’t seem to divorce themselves from some truly bad — and inaccurate — arguments.
According to the Maine Wire, Madeline Malisa of the Opportunity Solutions Project testified to lawmakers on March 22 that “8,253 Mainers had their ballots tossed out” in the 2nd Congressional District race in 2018 when Democrat Jared Golden won over incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar. Malisa added that “their votes did not count.” This is not accurate.
The 8,253 number is real — it refers to the “exhausted” ballots in that 2018 race, the first year that ranked-choice voting was used in congressional elections in Maine. When none of the candidates secured a majority of votes in the first round, second round votes from Bond and Hoar were re-allocated to Golden or Poliquin depending on those voters’ second choice. But approximately 8,000 of those Bond and Hoar voters didn’t fill out a second round choice, or didn’t choose Golden or Poliquin. That meant their ballots were not included in the second round tally.
The notion that these 8,253 ballots were not counted, however, is not based in reality. These are ballots that were counted for Bond or Hoar, in which most of the voters did not select other choices in additional rounds.
It is complicated to explain, sure. But everyone should be clear: votes were not thrown out.
This notion has been rejected by a federal judge. Judge Lance Walker, a U.S. District judge in Bangor nominated by former President Donald Trump, addressed (and dismantled) this argument back in 2018. He explained how these exhausted ballots are not evidence of voter confusion or disenfranchisement.
“It is just as likely evidence that approximately 8,000 voters did not want to vote for either Mr. Golden or Mr. Poliquin regardless of whether they believed they would be the run-off candidates,” Walker wrote in a Dec. 2018 ruling rejecting an election challenge from Poliquin and others. “An expression of political preference that does not, even under RCV, favor either one of the two major-party candidates is not evidence of voter confusion. To the contrary, it may as likely be evidence of voter clarity and conviction, which is no doubt what [led] to the passage of the RCV Act in the first instance.”
Choosing not to participate in the additional rounds of ranked-choice voting is not the same thing as having your vote tossed out. Ranked-choice voting is not unfair just because some people chose not to follow the full process. It is well past time that RCV opponents dropped this flawed notion.
These ranked-choice opponents should take better care with their rhetoric. The implementation of ranked-choice voting in Maine has been uneven and at times confusing, but repeating the same incorrect claims about it is not going to make our voting system any better.