Maine voters have passed a statewide measure that could benefit third parties and prevent candidates who don’t truly have majority support from gaining office.
On Tuesday, Maine became the first state to pass ranked-choice voting, sometimes also called “instant-runoff voting,” Maine Public Radio reports. Several U.S. cities have implemented ranked-choice voting, but Maine would be the first place to do it statewide, according to Reason.
With traditional voting in the U.S., whichever candidate gets the most votes in a given race wins ― period. That means that if there are more than two candidates, someone can win office without getting a majority of more than 50 percent of voters. In some cases, a candidate might win even though more than half of voters strongly oppose that person, if their support is split among the candidate’s opponents.
Ranked-choice voting, on the other hand, allows voters to rank their candidates. To win, a candidate must earn a majority of the votes cast. If, after the first round of counting, no candidate has a majority of votes, the ballots get counted again with one exception: for voters who selected the last-place candidate as their top pick, their votes get counted with their second-choice candidate as their first choice. This continues until someone gets a majority.
The new voting style will apply to elections for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. representative, state senate and state representative, according to Maine Public Radio.
Proponents of ranked-choice voting say it empowers voters to support the candidate they genuinely like best, instead of feeling obligated to support whoever they feel is “lesser of two evils.”
Mainers may be especially attuned to the potential impact of ranked-choice voting. In both 2010 and 2014, Republican Paul LePage was elected as governor despite not winning a majority of the votes. In 2010, LePage won only 38.2 percent of the votes, with the rest of the vote split between three independent and one democratic candidate. Independent Eliot Cutler trailed LePage at a close second, with 36.5 percent.
LePage has since come under fire for incidents that include racist remarks, dangerously inaccurate statements on issues like refugees and marijuana reform and suggesting that heroin addicts are better off dead.
“When we look at governor’s race after governor’s race where the winning candidate has failed to get a majority of voters, Mainers just know it and feel it that the system is broken,” Kyle Bailey, campaign manager of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, told the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday.
LePage has been among the critics of the measure, noting that it violates the Maine Constitution, which says that election winners must be chosen by plurality. However, legal experts who support the measure have refuted this argument, saying its wording is indeed in line with the constitution.