As we approach the November general election, we thought you may want to see the election through the lens of RCV rather than simply a Republican/Democratic fistfight. For the first time this year, Maine voters—who have worked hard to prevail over a series of court challenges—will be using ranked-choice voting for both the presidential and federal congressional elections. For a better understanding of RCV and how it may impact the presidential and the Maine senatorial races see, e.g., The Dispatch, “What we can learn from Maine” (9/28/20) at https://thedispatch.com/p/what-we-can-learn-from-maines-move; and Reason Magazine, Maine Becomes the First State to Try Ranked Choice Voting for President (9/20/20) at https://reason.com/2020/09/23/maine-becomes-first-state-to-try-ranked-choice-voting-for-president/.
Maine law provides that all state and federal primary elections, and federal general elections, are conducted by ranked-choice voting. How did the state get to this point? Four years ago, Maine’s Question 5, the Ranked Choice Voting Act, passed with 52% support, earning it the second-greatest number of votes in the history of Maine ballot initiatives. The law stated that all primary and general elections for Maine’s governor, state legislature, and federal congressional offices would be conducted by ranked-choice voting. However, after Question 5 passed, some, including the Maine Attorney General, expressed the opinion that parts of it regarding state elections could not be implemented because they contradicted provisions in the Maine Constitution. These provisions centered on amendments to the Maine Constitution governing the election of its governor and representatives to the state house and state senate, stating that a candidate must be seated if they receive a “plurality” of votes. (Similar provisions exist in many state constitutions, but not in the New Jersey Constitution.) In general, constitutional plurality requirements sought to replace provisions that allowed for appointment or repeated elections in cases where no candidate received a majority of votes. The Maine Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion stating that despite this “legislative history,” it thought that the constitution was inconsistent with RCV. In response this advisory opinion, the Maine Legislature sought to repeal the Ranked Choice Voting Act, though citizens successfully gathered more than 80,000 signatures in 88 days in favor of RCV, suspending this attempt to repeal the will of the people.
Maine’s first use of ranked-choice voting therefore took place in its primary elections on June 12, 2018. At the same election, Mainers voted on Measure 1, which decided whether to retain ranked-choice voting for all future primary elections as well as general elections for federal congressional offices. Measure 1 passed with more than 54% in favor. The first general elections conducted by ranked-choice voting in Maine thus took place on November 6, 2018. Maine voters also voted on whether to block the repeal law (with respect to state and federal primaries and federal congressional elections) permanently. Blocking the legislature’s attempt to derail RCV succeeded again at the ballot, where Maine citizens had their voices heard.
The following August in 2019, the legislation expanding the RCV system to include presidential primary and general elections. However, opponents -- primarily identified with the state Republican party -- again circulated a veto referendum petition, trying to once again put the question of RCV for presidential primary and federal general elections on the 2020 ballot and suspending its implementation pending the outcome of that vote. A court ruled that there was an insufficient number of valid signatures, and so Maine voters are voting this November for the President and Senate using RCV.
Because we have a different legal framework here in New Jersey, with our Constitution silent with respect to plurality versus majority voting, we are confident at VoterChoiceNJ that our path to RCV will be less litigious and, hopefully, smoother.
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