Rep. Ed Polewarczyk (R-Wiscasset) announced Tuesday that his bill to repeal Maine’s ranked-choice voting law will have a Public Hearing on Wednesday.
The controversial law has faced criticism since its implementation in 2016, with proponents claiming it promotes a more democratic election process, while opponents argue that it is confusing and disenfranchises voters.
In a statement, Polewarczyk said, “There are increasing complaints from constituents that the ranked-choice experiment has failed to deliver on its promises. It produces false majorities, frequently exhausts thousands of ballots cast on Election Day, is confusing, and disenfranchises voters who are already unlikely to vote. It is time to return to a simpler, easy-to-understand system where the candidate with the most votes wins.”
The bill, titled “An Act to Repeal Ranked-choice Voting,” seeks to remove ranked-choice voting from Maine’s election process and revert to the previous method of determining a winner based on the plurality of votes. The text of the bill can be found here.
Ranked-choice voting, which was approved by Maine voters during the 2016 election cycle, allows voters in some state elections to rank candidates in order of preference on their ballots. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and their voters’ second-choice preferences are redistributed among the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate obtains a majority of votes.
Proponents of ranked-choice voting argue that it prevents the “spoiler effect” often seen in traditional plurality voting systems, where a third-party candidate can split the vote, leading to the election of a candidate with only a plurality of support. In Maine’s recent gubernatorial elections, both Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and Republican Gov. Paul LePage were elected with twice with a non-majority plurality of the vote.
Following LePage’s election and re-election, Democratic activists pointed to the “spoiler” role of independent Eliot Cutler as unfairly skewing the election outcome. As a result, ranked-choice voting has largely been a left-wing political priority in Maine. Supporters also claim that ranked-choice voting encourages more civil campaigns and fosters greater voter participation.
However, opponents, like Polewarczyk, argue that the system is confusing for voters, leading to an increased number of invalidated ballots and disenfranchised voters. The upcoming Public Hearing on the bill will allow for further debate on the merits and drawbacks of ranked-choice voting in Maine, though the chance that it prevails are slim considering the current composition of the legislature.
In 2018, Pew Charitable Trusts reported that, due to voters potentially misunderstanding or improperly filling out ballots, some 9,000 ballots didn’t count in the final tally.
The Maine Wire has asked the Secretary of State’s office for information about how many ballots were similarly not counted in the final round of ranked-choice voting, but that office has not responded to our inquiry.