One State Is Considering a New Approach to Voting That's Worth Your Attention

October 30th 2016

Lucy Tiven

The most influential vote cast by Maine residents this November may not be their presidential pick. The state's ballots include a ranked-choice voting initiative that would make electoral history, NPR reports.


Ranked-choice voting allows you to pick multiple candidates in order of preference, rather than simply voting for one. It is used in San Francisco, Oakland, St. Paul and Minneapolis, but Maine would the first place to adopt it state-wide, according to Politico.

How it works.

In a ranked-choice voting system, the candidate with the most #1 votes only wins if they are the first choice of over half of the voters. However, if no candidate receives #1 votes from over 50 percent of the electorate, the candidate with the least amount of first choice votes is eliminated and there is a second tally. 


In this tally, any #1 votes that went to the eliminated candidate now go towards those voter's second choices. The candidates with the least #1 votes are again eliminated in the same way as in the first tally and this continues until one one of the nominees has over 50 percent of the vote.

Or, as, perhaps best illuminated by a video from Minnesota Public Radio News using post-it notes:



Advocates of ranked-choice voting argue that it would make voters less beholden to the two-party system and give independent and third-party candidates a chance.

From the Portland Press Herald editorial board:

"But even though Maine’s political parties have been in decline for decades, they still have an outsized influence on the process. Nominees selected by the small number of committed partisans who show up to vote in June have enormous institutional advantages on Election Day in November.

"That puts the largest group of voters, those who are not active as either Democrats or Republicans, in a bind.

"They have no say in the selection of a party nominee, but they can’t vote for a third-party candidate without risking a vote for a 'spoiler' who fragments opposition and gives an extreme candidate a path to victory."

Evan McMullin

This means that your vote won't be thrown out even if your first choice is unpopular.

As Mitchell Hamline School of Law professor H. Allen Blair explained in an op-ed on the MinnPost:


"The current national system – 'first-past-the-post' — is ill equipped to handle more than two serious candidates. A winner can be elected with far less than a majority, while other candidates split the vote. Basically, in our current system, candidates have no incentive to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters to win. Instead, they pander to their base and attack their opponents, trying to drive voters away from them. Any third-party candidates just become ruinous “spoilers” who help the person the spoiler’s supporters prefer the least."

Others have voiced opposition to the measure.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board argues that ranked-choice voting will befuddle voters, lower voter turnout, and make votes more difficult to count. The piece asserts that today's polarized political institutions reflect a deeply polarized nation and not a flaw in the political process.


Former Maine state official Gordon L. Weil also outlines the arguments against the measure in a Portland Press Herald op-ed, and argues that ranked-choice voting would be costly and confusing to voters.

"According to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, the cost to the state of such an election would be about $910,000 in the first year, compared with $248,000 under the current system," Weil writes.

He claims the system would simply baffle voters, and it could lead them to submit incomplete ballots as a result.

From Weil:

"The complexity of ranked-choice voting is obvious. Instead of simply voting for the candidate you prefer, each voter must have an election strategy. They have to guess at what will happen to their backup votes.

For example, in a four-way race, a voter who had supported only the first two candidates eliminated would then be stripped of any role in the ultimate election. To have their votes count in the last round, they would have had to vote for their first- and third-favorite choices, skipping the second. Confusing? Absolutely."