Maine voters passed ranked-choice voting (RCV) into law from the November 2016 referendum. RCV, otherwise known as instant runoff voting, has now been used in the state for the 2018 gubernatorial election, primaries and Congress races. Gov. Mills announced that Maine will be the first state in the nation to choose a president with RCV. The system is allegedly more democratic, since it allows voters to not have to exclusively choose their top candidate; voters can support less popular candidates without fearing that their vote will be “wasted;” Additionally, politicians must appeal to a wider demographic as the winning candidate has to win by a majority instead of a plurality. Unfortunately, RCV does not actually deliver these benefits.
“The Huffington Post” describes how if no candidate wins a majority, the candidate with the fewest top votes is eliminated. The secondary votes of supporters of this ousted candidate get redistributed. This continues until one candidate has a majority.
While states are democracy’s laboratories, RCV has been problematic since first passed. According to FairVote, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued that it would consider RCV to be unconstitutional in a trial. The Maine State Constitution establishes that state offices are to be determined by a plurality. However, under this instant runoff voting, offices would be determined by a majority. Maine’s Constitution also establishes that Maine’s Senate is to determine the winner with an election failure, instead of having ballots recounted. Following a legislative decision to repeal the bill based on unconstitutionality, a people’s veto established that Maine will only use RCV for federal office elections not state office elections. The fact that it took a people’s veto to overrule legislation concerning RCV’s state unconstitutionality affirms that RCV remains questionable at best.
On a federal level, RCV questions the dogma “one person, one vote.” While a federal district judge found that Rep. Jared Golden was the official U.S. Representative for Maine’s Second Congressional District after the RCV based 2018 election, the Bangor Daily News states that Bruce Poliquin would have won this seat had it not been for RCV. Although the U.S. Constitution does reserve elections to be conducted by the states, the system of RCV does mean that some ballots will be weighted stronger than others. A 2014 study published in Electoral Studies concluded that under RCV, some ballots are unused. The New York Daily News estimates that as high as nine to 27% of voters’ ballots in RCV elections are not even used, due to a majority being determined before all votes are considered. Considering how RCV unfairly weights some ballots, it is unconstitutional since it does not adhere to “one person, one vote.” In a democracy, each citizen should receive exactly one, equal vote.
RCV also has problems pertaining to costs, complications, and potential for interference. Even Gov. Mills, who generally supports RCV, acknowledges that it has flaws.
“There are serious questions about the cost and logistics of … RCV, including collecting and transporting ballots from more than 400 towns in … winter,” Mills stated in a memo to the state legislature.
Critics object to how the process could confuse voters. Additionally, having all ballots for each municipality transported to Augusta, instead of counted in their municipality, could lead to lost ballots or even tampering. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap estimated that RCV could cost as much as $750,000 annually, which is nearly twice as expensive as tallying votes without RCV. With RCV, Maine can expect to see voter confusion, complications, drastically heightened costs, and greater potential for tallying mistakes or even election fraud.
RCV is not as democratic as its proponents claim. The New York Daily News suggests that across the states, special interest groups push for RCV. The motives of these groups could vary, but this is likely to push for certain political agendas. Citizens should be responsible for these initiatives, not “big money” from out of state interest groups. Relatedly, RCV will not lead to more amicable campaigns, since political action committees are often the ones who engage in negative campaigning, not the candidates themselves. RCV is pushed for by “big money,” and does not foster more civil campaigns.
The journal Democracy describes how, due to some voters not ranking each candidate, RCV does occasionally produce a winner who did not even receive a majority of votes. Additionally, the results of RCV often parallel what the outcomes would have been without the system. This means that the whole system may be totally unnecessary. RCV often does not produce a majority winner, and often does not produce a different result than what an election without RCV would have.
RCV is not democratic, constitutional or effective. RCV was originally deemed contrary to Maine’s Constitution and does not ensure “one person, one vote.” This new system of voting is overly complex and expensive, increases the potential for electoral mishap or fraud and produces ineffective results heavily affected by special interest groups. Maine would be better off without ranked-choice voting.