House Democrats gave initial approval Tuesday to a bill that would allow all of Maine’s municipalities to adopt ranked-choice voting.

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said that currently, only a relatively small number of cities and larger towns have charters that govern election rules, which would allow them to adopt ranked-choice voting. His bill would expand that right to the 413 Maine municipalities that do not have official charters and are instead governed by state law, which requires them to decide elections through a plurality vote.

Berry, the bill’s sponsor, said passage of the bill would not force any of the state’s 488 municipalities to adopt ranked-choice voting. He framed the issue as a matter of local control for the vast majority of towns that do not have formal charters.

“It does not require any municipality to do anything,” Berry said. “We can give local control to those 413 unchartered municipalities.”

The bill passed in the House on Tuesday by a vote of 75 to 61, with Republicans opposed. It now heads to the Senate.

Republicans have long criticized the voting method and that distaste only hardened after U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, unseated Bruce Poliquin in a ranked-choice instant runoff in 2018.


Rep. Jonathan Connor, R-Lewiston, said the bill would give political operatives more control over elections, citing Portland’s recent charter commission race as an example.

In the Portland Charter Commission election last June, a slate of progressive candidates ran together and won a majority of the seats. In one instance, a progressive candidate who finished with only 378 votes after the initial count ended up defeating a candidate who got 1,851 votes in the first round.

In a ranked-choice election, voters are allowed to rank the candidates in order of preference. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote after the first choices are counted, election officials eliminate the last-place finisher and redistribute that candidate’s votes based on each voter’s second choice. This process continues – with candidates eliminated from the bottom up and their votes reallocated – until one accumulates more than 50 percent of the vote and is declared the winner.

The Portland Charter Commission race was an anomaly because it included a large number of candidates competing for four at-large seats, allowing candidates with relatively few first-place votes to accumulate many more votes in later rounds. Typically, ranked-choice elections are used to fill a single seat when there are three or more candidates.

But for Connor, the Portland election was a cautionary tale. He said many people watched “in dismay” and don’t want that kind of process in smaller, rural towns.

“For someone who thinks rural Maine needs to be more like Portland, this is the bill for you,” Connor said. “These are the rules that proponents of the bill want to bring to a community near you. What was the result of that Portland election? It ensured there was limited ideological diversity on the commission, not more.”


The bill, L.D. 859, would allow municipalities to use ranked-choice voting in local elections as long as the voting method was adopted during a public meeting at least 180 days before the election.

Current laws permit unchartered municipalities to conduct select board and school board elections using a plurality, which means the person with the most votes wins even if they get less than 50 percent.

A chartered community can adopt ranked-choice voting by revising or amending its municipal charter. In addition to Portland, Westbrook recently amended its charter to allow ranked-choice voting in local elections.

Berry said select board members in Bowdoinham, Harpswell and China have expressed interest in ranked-choice voting as well.

Ranked-choice voting also is used in state primary elections and in federal elections. But state general elections for the Legislature and governor are decided by plurality, because of requirements in the state constitution.

Rep. Sherman Hutchins, R-Penobscot, opposed the bill, but he suggested there could be a silver lining if more towns actually make the mistake of trying it.

“The old axiom: from some harm, some good possibly comes from it,” Hutchins said. “And in this particular case, if we vote for this, it will show more communities the ridiculousness of this type of voting, which may possibly lead to the end of it statewide sooner.”

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