Still recovering from the vicious, seemingly endless presidential campaign? Brace yourself: Potential candidates are already gearing up for next year’s Maine gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.
The good news is that the rancor stands to be eased under ranked-choice voting, a citizen-initiated measure approved last fall — and state officials shouldn’t let a court challenge keep them from taking steps to put the system in place.
Maine’s ranked-choice voting law — which applies to races for governor, the Maine Legislature, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate — was slated to take effect in 2018. But a possible roadblock appeared in February, in the form of a request from the Maine Senate for a state supreme court advisory opinion on the measure’s constitutionality. Briefs were submitted earlier this month; oral arguments have been scheduled for April 13.
We supported Question 5, the ranked-choice voting ballot question, and we urge state officials to implement the reforms as part of Maine’s primary process instead of delaying action until the high court has reached a decision.
Unlike general elections, which are referenced in the Maine Constitution, primaries are created by state law. They tend to be multiple-candidate contests that draw partisan, committed voters and favor fringe voices. Ranked-choice could give a boost to moderates — or at least discourage those with more extremist views from attacking another candidate and losing support in later rounds of vote counting.
By backing ranked-choice voting, Mainers have come out solidly in favor of changing the way we run elections, and primaries — where candidates are winnowed out before the general election — are fertile ground for change.
There’s a legal dispute over whether ranked-choice voting fulfills the Maine Constitution’s provisions for a plurality winner in some elections. However, the new system still would be required in races for Maine’s congressional seats.
Here’s how ranked-choice voting works: If there are three or more candidates in a ranked-choice race, voters indicate their top choices in order of preference. The candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated until the vote counting determines that someone has a majority.
Ranked-choice voting allows people to cast their ballots based on who they think is best equipped for the job, instead of who they think is best equipped to win the election. It also allows someone whose top pick doesn’t get the majority of the support to retain some say over who eventually is elected. Given the system’s benefits to voters, there’s every reason to move ahead with it.