Election Center

Maine has a ranked-choice disaster on its hands

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Yesterday, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that “ranked-choice voting can’t occur in June without legislative action.” This was a stunning reversal from his testimony last week when he said, in front of the Maine Advisory Council to the US Commission on Civil Rights, that ranked-choice voting (RCV) would be a “big success come June.”

Here we are in March 2018, nearly two years after RCV was passed and just months before a primary election, and nobody in Maine can tell us what voting system we will use in our upcoming elections. It’s a catastrophe.

In the June primary, Maine voters will decide whether to keep RCV in place or to defer to the decision made by the Legislature last year, which repeals the law if a constitutional amendment is not passed by 2021.

The confusion and calamity already caused by this law — before its implementation — is all the evidence we need to suggest that it’s the wrong choice for Maine.

Ranked-choice voting is fundamentally flawed.
With RCV, the winner is determined by the losers. Those that vote for the less popular candidates get to decide who the winner is. Rather than ‘one man, one vote,’ RCV assures that some people get multiple votes. In a RCV election in San Francisco, 18,503 votes were cast and the “winner” was declared after 19 recounts, having received only 4,321 votes. In other words, 75 percent of voters voted against the winner. A true majority would have required at least 9,252 votes.

It is expensive.
Maine voters will now be required to submit two separate ballots: the regular ballot we see each year and the ranked-choice ballot. Because of constitutional provisions that require a winner to be declared once s/he has received a plurality of the votes, RCV cannot be used for state level races in the general election. This means the state of Maine must allocate more funds for the printing of additional ballots and new voting machines with software that can accurately tabulate ranked-choice ballots; at an estimated cost of $1.3 million. A recent RCV election in Santa Fe, New Mexico cost the municipal government $350,000 for an election where 20,604 votes were cast, averaging almost $17 per vote.

It is complicated.
In addition to having to use multiple ballots, voters would be required to rank all of the candidates against each other, rather than simply choose the one they like most. When voters in RCV elections choose not to rank every candidate, their ballots eventually become “exhausted” and their vote no longer matters. Those who fill out the ballot incorrectly will see their vote thrown out instantly. Talk about voter suppression.

Maine voters did not ask for this mess.
Combined, the six ballot question committees that formed in support of Question 5 in 2016 accepted over $1 million in Schedule A and in-kind contributions from out-of-state special interest groups to pass a blatantly unconstitutional measure. This hijacking of our state’s referendum process is exactly why there are ongoing efforts to bring transparency to the process. The Legislature is currently considering LD 1865 “An Act To Increase Transparency in the Direct Initiative Process,” which would bring meaningful ballot initiative reform to Maine. Unfortunately, it is almost a certainty at this point that June primary election races will be decided in the courts, not by the people.

It is unconstitutional.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously determined RCV to be unconstitutional in an advisory opinion. In order to bring the law into compliance with the constitution and existing statute, Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn testified before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that “the legislature needs to…further amend Chapter 9 of Title 21-A to remove conflicts between the laws governing non-RCV versus RCV ballot counting and tabulation.” According to Flynn, the law needs 16 conforming amendments to be in compliance.

Whatever happens in the remaining 75 days leading up to the primary election, one thing is clear: ranked-choice voting is bad for democracy and bad for Maine.

In June, Maine voters have the opportunity to protect their traditional voting system and to stand up against a law that threatens one of their most basic civil rights. Elections should be decided by voters, not in the courts.

It is imperative that we uphold the sanctity of free and fair elections. This cannot be accomplished with ranked-choice voting.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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