Supporters and opponents of ranked-choice voting laid out their cases Friday during a sometimes-heated four-hour hearing on a first-in-the-nation election method that the state’s highest court says is unconstitutional. About two dozen people spoke to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, with most urging members to keep ranked-choice voting as a way to depolarize an increasingly uncivil political landscape. “Ranked-choice voting encourages politicians to reach across lines … to appeal beyond their natural constituents to voters who pick them as a second or third choice,” said Amy Smith, a retired political scientist and the town clerk in Arrowsic. Smith, citing her own academic studies, said plurality voting is often associated with increasingly uncivil and sometimes violent campaigns, in which politicians appeal solely to their own bases, or core constituencies. “The surest way to rule their own base is to demean and disrespect the other side,” she said.
Mainers passed a ballot measure in November making the state the first to use a ranked-choice system to elect the governor, state lawmakers and members of Congress. The system allows voters to rank candidates by preference and uses a process of elimination to select the winner when there are multiple candidates for an office and none has more than 50 percent of the vote.
But the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion last month that ranked-choice voting violates the state constitution, which stipulates that candidates for state office be elected by a plurality, in which the candidate with the most votes wins.