In recent years, support has surfaced for run-off elections in Maine. Under such a system, the winning candidate would be required to receive a majority of the votes rather than a plurality. For instance, in three out of the past five gubernatorial elections, the winner was elected with less than 40 percent of the vote due to the increased presence of third-party and independent candidates. In 2010, candidates Libby Mitchell and Eliot Cutler split the moderate and liberal vote down the middle, resulting in a win, with 38 percent of the vote, by the ultra-conservative Paul LePage. This session a number of bills were submitted that would have implemented a form of run-off elections. Rep. Jeff Evangelos (I-Friendship) submitted a bill that would have required another election to be held if no candidate received over 50 percent of the vote. Under that two-round system, the two candidates with the most votes would be on the ballot for a second election. The Maine Secretary of State’s office testified neither for nor against the bill, but stated that holding a second election would pose a significant difficulty for the state and municipalities as the schedule for tabulation and recording the official vote tally would leave insufficient time.
“There also would be the cost to the municipalities for the election of officials and other costs of conducting the election,” said Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn. “If the state opted to produce all hand-counted ballots, municipalities that normally use a tabulator would likely need to hire more election clerks for the hand-count.”
Another bill sponsored by Independent Senator Dick Woodbury (Cumberland) would have set up a system of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), also known as “ranked choice voting.” IRV allows voters to rank their candidate choices in order of preference. On election day, if no single candidate receives a majority vote, candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated and the voters’ next choices are redistributed around the remaining candidates. This continues until one candidate has a majority of the votes. In 2011, Portland passed IRV by referendum, to be used to elect the city’s mayors.
The Secretary of State’s office offered cautionary testimony about IRV, arguing that it would create problems for the state’s approximately 500 voting jurisdictions. The office also estimated it would cost $1.5 million to upgrade voting machines, with possible additional expenditures for more ballots. The Maine Municipal Association also opposed the measure.
“Municipal officials believe that the administration of the rank choice voting process is easier said than done,” said MMA’s Kate Dufour. “In addition to all the usual election day responsibilities, clerks, wardens and other election officials would spend a significant amount of time explaining the new process to voters, and most likely hand out several replacement ballots to those who make mistakes.”
The Secretary of State’s office speculated that IRV would conflict with the Maine Constitution, as it states that the governor must be elected with a plurality of votes. Nevertheless LD 518 co-sponsor Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) remained in support of the measure.
“$1.5 million is a small price to pay to elect a governor who truly represents the people of Maine,” said Russell.