With the ugly political system we are now suffering, you’d think that everyone would embrace something that brings more of us together in agreement in our elections. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, because our ranked-choice voting system still draws significant opposition, mostly from Republicans.

On Wednesday, the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will host hearings on a bunch of ranked-choice voting bills. Some would expand the opportunity to rank your choices in more races. Others would eliminate ranked-choice voting altogether.

For several reasons, I signed on as one of the petitioners who initially submitted the first ranked-choice voting initiative to the secretary of state for approval.

The most obvious benefit is that we get officeholders who have the support of a lot more of us. If a candidate wins more than half the votes in the first count, he or she is elected. But if no candidate gets more than 50 percent, the count includes our second-place votes. If a candidate gets enough first- and second-choice votes to win a majority, that candidate is elected. If not, the third-place votes are counted, and so forth until someone gets more than 50 percent of the votes.

And ranked choice, despite the claims of opponents, is not complicated. You can simply vote for your favorite candidate and call it good, or if you also like a second candidate, you can cast a second-place vote for that candidate.

Initially, I liked the possibility that ranked choice would limit negative advertising, which has gotten so bad that we end up not liking any of the candidates. Because a candidate wants, and may need, our second-choice votes, I felt that candidate could not afford to attack our favorite candidate and, in the process, alienate and anger us.

In places across the country that have ranked choice voting, this has been one very obvious benefit. Alas, in Maine’s Second District race for Congress last year, this did not happen. We suffered through millions of dollars worth of nasty attack ads from national groups who simply didn’t care about ranked-choice voting.

Despite that, ranked choice allowed us to send a wonderful young man to Congress, Jared Golden, who couldn’t do much about the national ads attacking him or his opponent, but who stuck to the tried-and-true positive messages throughout his campaign.

I think we desperately need ranked-choice voting. I spent my career in politics, and never — until the last few elections — saw such brutal, negative, nasty and false advertising. Some of the attack pieces against legislative candidates were astonishing — and very troubling. Yes, the nastiness has gotten all the way down to the legislative level, often coming from national groups that can spend unlimited dollars in these races.

The amount of money spent by special interest groups and campaigns on negative advertising is appalling, and if ranked-choice voting did nothing more than reduce that, it is worth doing.

I also like the fact that ranked-choice voting seems to favor female candidates. I’ve known some great female legislators. They can be partisan, for sure, but I have also found them to be more thoughtful and collaborative.

You don’t have to take my word for this. There is ample evidence that ranked-choice voting is achieving these goals.

Here’s a report from Andrew Douglas, by The Center for Voting and Democracy: “Ranked-choice voting (RCV) has been associated with a range of civic benefits, but in the context of the polarized politics of the United States its potential to promote civil and inclusive campaigns is especially promising. As the use of ranked choice voting has increased in the U.S. — including adoptions in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and the Bay Area in California — there is now more data available to test this idea in American elections. Highlights from two recent studies suggest that RCV has been embraced by voters and candidates alike, who see RCV as a means of reducing divisive politics and fostering more positive, inclusive, and informative campaigns.”

There’s lots more information at www.rcvmaine.com.

Set aside your frustration with the state of politics in our state and help make it better by supporting expansion of ranked choice voting. I can tell you one thing for sure: things won’t get better unless you step up to make it happen.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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