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What ranked-choice voting means for UMaine students

When Republican candidate for governor Mary Mayhew was asked about ranked-choice voting by the Maine Campus in March, she said, “I certainly don’t support it. I think it’s undermining the integrity of the voting process.” Mayhew will be running as the process of ranked-choice voting is tried for the first time in the state’s gubernatorial race. And despite the approval of the Maine Ranked Choice Voting Initiative in 2016, questions about its implementation and constitutionality still loom as November approaches.

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) allows voters to rank up to four candidates in order of preference when they mark their voting ballots. Its aim is to make the election process more directly democratic by ensuring candidates receive over 50 percent of the votes, rather than a plurality. Among some of the supporters of the Question 5 campaign in 2016 were the Maine Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party of Maine and the League of Women Voters of Maine.

Opponents of ranked-choice voting, including Gov. Paul LePage, cite the Maine Constitution’s Plurality Requirement and Instant Runoff Tabulation Requirements, as well the possibility of RCV becoming time-consuming and involving intensive recounts upon two candidates not receiving a majority vote, as the reason for their opposition.

As Maine saw five citizen-led referendum questions in November 2016, RCV was proposed alongside other controversial questions in regard to the legalization of marijuana, increasing minimum wage and the addition of a tax surcharge on high-income households for the purpose of funding public education. Much of the hype surrounding the 2016 election is still felt today, and the debate over whether an amendment to the state constitution should be added still persists into 2018 as a veto referendum could determine whether or not ranked-choice voting is used for the 2018 elections.

How does this affect students at the University of Maine?

When members of the UMaine System (UMS) board of trustees are appointed, they are usually designated by the governor. If ranked-choice voting were to be universally approved through an amendment to the Maine Constitution, depending on one’s perspective, there would either be more power in a single vote or an unnecessary disenfranchisement of voters by using recounted ballots of losing candidates to determine winning candidates.

“My only experience with rank-choice voting was when I was in high school, and we used it to pick our class song. And everyone picked the serious song for their first choice, but everyone also picked the second one as a joke. The second choice won, and so the Pokemon theme song was our senior song,” Meaghan Byrnes said.

Byrnes is a fourth-year political science student and says that, in her experience, “no one knew what they were voting for when they picked number two.”

“I’m from a really small community where constituency matters, and we’re really happy with our representatives. Ranked-choice voting wouldn’t be good for us,” second-year political science student Rebecca Archer said.

RCV means a lot for UMaine’s future in terms of how much money is allocated for higher education in the state. Because the university primarily relies on appropriations and tuition dollars, the election of a governor whose policies are favorable of higher education is important for UMaine’s funding of everything from infrastructure projects to services it provides for students.

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