Maine Becomes First State to Rank Presidential Candidates

By: - September 9, 2019 12:00 am

An election worker recounts ballots in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District after the state used ranked-choice voting for the first time in a general election last year. The system will be used in presidential contests there. Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press

Maine will become the first state to allow ranked-choice voting in a presidential election.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills will let a bill the legislature passed last month become law without her signature. The law won’t, however, go into effect in time for the state’s March presidential primary.

In a memo to the state legislature, the governor said she remains concerned about the logistical and financial costs of implementing this new voting system, “including collecting and transporting ballots from more than 400 towns in the middle of winter.”

In ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates from first to last. A candidate who earns more than half the vote wins. If no one passes that threshold, an instant runoff kicks in and the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. The second-choice votes from those losing ballots are allocated to the remaining candidates. This process, which only requires the original vote, repeats until a candidate gets majority support.

Proponents of the system say it guarantees that winners in packed races eventually receive majority support. They also say it reduces negative campaigning, since it requires candidates to reach out to voters who may rank them as a second or third choice.

Delaying the bill’s implementation will allow the state to appropriate further funds to meet any challenges, Mills said. After 2020, future presidential primaries in Maine will use the ranked-choice system.

“I am optimistic about the ability of political parties in Maine to implement ranked-choice voting at every level in an inclusive and fiscally responsible way in the upcoming presidential election year,” she said in the memo.

Last year, Maine became the first state to hold statewide elections using the ranked-choice system. More than 20 jurisdictions around the country, including Santa Fe, New Mexico, and St. Paul, Minnesota, use the voting system.

Ranked-choice voting survived a legal battle in Maine late last year, when an ousted Republican congressman argued it was unconstitutional, saying it violated the “one person, one vote” principle. A federal judge in December allowed the system to continue.

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Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros

Matt Vasilogambros covers voting rights, gun laws and Western climate policy for Stateline. He lives in San Diego, California.