Commentary

Ranked Choice Voting: Wrong for Maine & Blatantly Unconstitutional

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Until recently, I assumed that all measures placed on the ballot were lawful. I was wrong. Blatantly unconstitutional questions may appear on the ballot as long as enough valid signatures are certified by the Secretary of State.

In a detailed six-page legal opinion regarding the ranked-choice voting (RCV) ballot question, Attorney General Janet Mills concluded, “… that LD 1557 does raise significant constitutional concerns…”

Armed with the AG’s legal opinion, I am sounding the alarm – if passed, ranked-choice voting would likely face court challenges based on at least two violations to the Maine Constitution.

Elected officials are required to be sworn into office. This is a solemn ceremony. The vows involve specific emphasis on the State of Maine’s constitution. As one serving in the Maine House of Representatives since 2010, this is a promise I have made three times. I feel it is my duty and responsibility to uphold and defend the Constitution when I feel it is under attack.

As A.G. Mills explains, the ranked-choice voting ballot question calls into question Maine’s long-standing law requiring a plurality of votes to determine the winner of state races for governor, state senate, and representatives to the house. RCV would require that both state and federal races be determined by a majority vote rather than a plurality. Ranked–choice voting would trigger an instant runoff vote when a majority of votes is not met.

In plain terms, a plurality of votes means that the person with the most votes wins, while a majority of votes means 50% plus one vote is needed to determine the winner. The distinction between a plurality of votes and a majority of votes becomes important in races with more than two candidates.

The Maine Constitution also requires that ballots be tabulated and counted in local municipalities, but the ranked-choice voting proposal would involve transporting ballots to the Secretary of State’s office for instant runoff tabulations, which not only violates the Maine Constitution, but is also costly and time consuming.

Proponents insist that RCV is legal. If so, why do they want to delay implementation to 2018? And why has the League of Women Voters already drafted the amendments to change the constitution?

Interestingly, Maine’s original constitution did specify that a majority of votes were needed to win state races. Due to a hotly contested 3-way race for governor in 1879 in which a majority was not achieved, the Maine Constitution was amended in the 1880’s to its current form, whereby winners are determined by a plurality of votes.

Setting aside legal concern, let’s consider the merits of ranked-choice voting.

In races that involve more than two candidates, RCV allows the voter two options. The voter may bullet vote, which means they vote traditionally and select their favorite candidate, or they may rank their choices in order of preference.

If none of the candidates achieve a majority with more than 50% of the vote, then an instant runoff is triggered. The ballots that were cast for the candidate with the least amount of votes are re-tabulated. Any of the bullet votes are discarded, since they have already been applied to the loser. The loser’s voters that opted to rank their choices will have their ballots pulled and re-tabulated.

This means the ballots of the loser(s) will determine the winner. Some voters, the voters of the loser(s), would get to vote more than once.

Number crunchers have looked at RCV from many different angles, and some instant-runoff races could have different outcomes. Most races, however, end up with the same results – the person with the most votes still wins.

I have knocked on a lot of doors while campaigning. Many voters do not like politics, and they do not trust politicians. This concerns me because our form of government, a representative republic, depends on an informed and engaged citizenry. The element of trust is important.

How does changing to a confusing and difficult way of voting help the public feel more confident in those elected to represent them? Can an election be more easily rigged with bullet or ranked voting strategies? If ballots need to be transported for instant runoffs, are they more vulnerable to vote tampering?

In my opinion, the current methodology of determining the winner is clear- the person with the most votes wins.

Ranked-Choice Voting would:

  • violate the Maine Constitution in two ways – Plurality Requirement and Instant Runoff Tabulation Requirements
  • lead to costly court challenges
  • make Maine the only state in the nation to implement RCV
  • be costly to implement- an estimated $1.5 million for new equipment
  • also include the federal candidates running for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as Maine Governor, Maine Senate, and Maine Representatives to the House
  • involve instant recounts if there are more than two candidates that do not result in a majority vote
  • be time consuming
  • further disenfranchise voters by using the recounted ballots of the loser to determine the winner

About Heather Sirocki

State Representative Heather Sirocki represents Maine House District 28 including part of Scarborough. She sits on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and can be reached at Heather.Sirocki@legislature.maine.gov.

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