A Maine ranked-choice voting referendum is being promoted by Eliot Cutler, who ran for governor twice, finishing second the first time, third this last time.

Under the idea, tested in a few cities around the country, including Portland, maybe Cutler or Mike Michaud would be governor now.

It’s no surprise to me that it is two Portland-area lawmakers who rolled out a ballot initiative petition in an attempt to make this idea happen. Democrat Party candidates for major office can’t seem to win in Maine anymore. The chief legislative sponsor, Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said the current system is about “polling and spoilers.” She must have been shocked by LePage’s upset re-election after all the polls showed Michaud consistently leading.

As for the claim of spoiler — Cutler ended up spoiling nothing but his reputation with 7 percent of the vote. Former Sen. Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth, a Cutler supporter, opined that ranked-choice voting would be fairer than people casting ballots against a candidate they dislike instead of for one they like.

Really, though, how many times have we voted for whom we perceived as the lesser of two (or more) evils? That is what voter choice is all about. Seldom is any candidate perfect, but one is at least preferable to other choices.

One of Cutler’s arguments is that candidates would be less likely to attack opponents. On the contrary, with the voter able to vote for other candidates on the ballot whom they also like, it would become even more necessary for each candidate to point out the weaknesses in their opponents while creating the image of why they should be the voter’s first choice.


With ranked-choice voting, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If there is no clear majority winner after the first ballot, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his or her second-choice votes for the remaining candidates are added to the count. The process repeats until a candidate receives at least 50 percent of the total votes. Talk about confusing the voters.

As things stand today and always have: The winner in our elections is already the candidate who receives the greatest support from among all who vote in the contest.

I submit that ranked-choice voting is simply designed to alter outcomes unsatisfactory to some.

From FairVote.org: “Through choice voting, like-minded groupings of voters win legislative seats in better proportion to their share of the population. Whereas winner-take-all elections award 100 percent power to a 50.1 percent majority, choice voting allows voters in a minority to win a fair share of representation.” There it is: No more No. 1, instead minority groups will decide elections.

When field tested in some cities around the country, 200 of 212 major party candidates won, dominating the elections. Large numbers of ballots were spoiled — not counted. Voters were confused.

Fair Vote, the Center for Voting and Democracy, Tacoma Park, Md., took a look at what happened in California. In San Francisco, 69 percent of voters lost out when in U.S. House races the winners combined for only 30.8 percent of the vote. In an open seat for Congress in California, seven in 10 voters cast votes for the losing candidates. In state senate races, 40 of 63 elections with four candidates may have had wrong outcomes. Out of 63 races with at least four candidates, the margin of victory between the second- and third-place candidates was less than the total votes cast for candidates trailing in fourth and below. In other words, the winners in these 40 races would have been different if backers of candidates outside the top three had instead voted for the third-place candidate. These races may have had “spoiler candidates.” The most telling fact: Only 11.5 percent of voters registered as independents or with a minority party cast ballots.

Still want to try it? Maine’s secretary of state’s office estimates cost of implementing this politically motivated scheme would be $1.5 million in the first two years. Does this have anything to do with Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election, in which he received the highest vote total for governor in Maine history?

No do-overs permitted. Majority rules. It reminds me of Tommy Smothers’ line to his brother, “Mom always liked you best.”

Don Roberts, a former city councilor and former vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta, is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District.

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