Maine would replace party caucuses with a nonpartisan presidential primary and elect its governor, legislators and federal officials with ranked-choice voting under a system proposed Monday in the Legislature. The multimillion-dollar cost of implementing the bill could prove to be its biggest challenge, given the state’s financial situation, according to the state’s election chief. Rep. Deane Rykerson, D-Kittery, who introduced LD 1422 to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Monday, said that his proposal would eliminate the state’s caucusing and party-by-party primary system in favor of a single primary election in which candidates would have the option of declaring their party membership or not. Rykerson said the system would prompt more voters to cast ballots based on the candidate and not his or her political party.
“Last summer and fall, campaigning for state representative, I knocked on every door in my district,” he said. “The comment I heard most was not about taxes or even jobs. What I heard was a plea to get our government functional and representative without entrenched party politics, especially in Washington, D.C.”
At the ballot box, according to Rykerson’s bill, voters would choose their top candidate and indicate their second, third, fourth choices and so on. The secretary of state’s office, armed with new voting software and technology deployed across Maine, would be able to conduct instant runoffs based on the ranked choices of voters, eliminating the lowest vote-getter in each round until two candidates remained, one of whom would more than 50 percent of the total vote.
In Maine’s current system, voters mark only one candidate’s name on the ballot and no matter how many candidates there are, the one who receives the most votes wins, even if that’s far less than 50 percent of all ballots cast. In recent gubernatorial elections, that system has led to the perception among some that voting for a third-party candidate can siphon support away from a similarly minded candidate and end up bolstering the person who the voter least preferred.
In 2010, for example, Republican Gov. Paul LePage won with 37.6 percent of the vote, topping independent Eliot Cutler, a former Democrat, by less than 2 percent. Democrat Libby Mitchell received about 19 percent of the vote. Similarly, in 2006, Democrat John Baldacci won his second term as governor with 38 percent of the vote among a five-candidate field.