On November 8, 2011, Portland, Maine residents will vote for mayor for the first time in nearly a century. For the past 88 years, Portland’s city councilors annually appointed the mayor. However, last year Portland residents voted to popularly elect the mayor. The impetus behind the change is the hope that an elected mayor will carry more political clout in Augusta, the State Capitol. This sudden creation of a very powerful political figure is drawing lots of attention from academics assessing the potential political impacts.
However, the election changes more than just Maine’s political balance and who chooses the mayor. It also establishes a controversial voting procedure for how the mayor is chosen. The 2011 mayor race will use instant-runoff voting (IRV), which encompasses voters’ preferential choices. Here’s how IRV works: each voter votes for as many candidates as he wants, ranking them from his first to last preference. The instant runoff ballot might look like this. Once the votes are collected, voters’ first choices are tallied. If any candidate carries more than 50% of the vote, then that candidate wins. However, given that there are 16 candidates in Portland’s mayoral race, it is extremely unlikely that one candidate will carry the necessary 50% of the vote. If no candidate has more than 50% of the vote, then the candidate receiving the lowest number of first place votes is eliminated, and his votes are redistributed to the candidates his voters ranked as their second choice. This process is repeated from the bottom up until one candidate carries the necessary majority.