Maine could become the first state to swap its traditional election system for one in which the winning candidates for Congress and state offices are selected by ranked-choice voting. On Monday, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, a state organization backed by national advocates, will submit signed petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office seeking to put the proposal on the November 2016 ballot. If the petition signatures are certified, the measure would appear alongside several other questions on legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage and a Maine Republican Party-led initiative to overhaul the state’s welfare system and reduce the income tax. In ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates appearing on a ballot in order of preference, though they still have the option of picking one candidate. The system won’t affect a two-way race, but it could have a significant impact in multi-candidate contests.
In the voting booth, you pick your top candidate. But instead of filling in a line or circle on the ballot, you put the number 1 next to your preferred choice. If none of the other candidates appeals to you, that’s it, you’re done. Grab your “I Voted” sticker and get back to work. However, if you want to rank the rest of the candidates, you do that by putting numbers next to the ones you might like. Rank as many or as few as you want. It’s up to you. The idea of choosing a second or third choice is that those rankings could eventually affect the outcome of the race.
As the votes are tabulated, counters determine if any of the candidates has received a majority of the total votes cast, that is, anything above 50 percent. (Currently, candidates win with a plurality, essentially the largest portion of the total votes cast). If none of the candidates receives a majority, the ranked-choice process kicks in.
First, vote tabulators eliminate the candidate who received the fewest first-choice votes. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates. The process continues until one candidate has a majority of votes and is declared the winner. Ranked-choice voting is designed to ensure that the winning candidate receives a majority vote. Advocates say it also ensures that candidates appeal to a cross-section of voters, not just the narrow, active constituencies that often decide party primary contests.