Maine voters approved a ballot measure on Tuesday that will allow the state to continue using a new system for electing candidates.
The system, called ranked choice voting, allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference instead of choosing just one. If no candidate wins an outright majority, the candidate with the least first-place votes is eliminated and his or her second-place votes are distributed to the remaining candidates. The process continues until one candidate gets a majority of the vote.
The victory is significant because Maine on Tuesday became the first state to use ranked choice voting in a statewide election. Several locales use the system in local elections.
Advocates for the system say it encourages civility and coalition-building in campaigns and prevents candidates from crowding each other out and getting elected with less than a majority. The system is particularly appealing in Maine, as Gov. Paul LePage (R) was elected in 2010 with 38.2 percent of the vote and re-elected in 2014 with 48.6 percent.
“Maine voters have twice collected signatures and voted for Ranked Choice Voting at the ballot box because they know that our political system isn’t working like it should and we have the power to fix it,” said Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, the group that led the effort to support the ballot measure.
The measure’s approval marks the latest move in a complex legal dispute over implementing the system in Maine. Voters in the state initially approved using ranked choice voting in November 2016, but Republicans have fought to delay implementing it. They said it violates the state constitution and is an effort to prevent candidates like LePage from getting elected in the future.
After voters approved the measure, the state legislature moved to delay implementing it until 2021 because of a provision in the Maine Constitution that says candidates should be elected by a plurality, not a majority. Organizers were able to gather enough signatures to get a measure on Tuesday’s ballot and give voters a say in whether to block the legislature’s delay.
Even though lawmakers delayed the measure last year, Maine’s supreme judicial court ordered the state to use ranked choice voting in Tuesday’s primary. Republicans also unsuccessfully fought in federal court to stop using it.
Maine’s supreme judicial court also said in 2017 that the state’s constitution required candidates to be elected by a plurality. Because of that opinion, ranked choice voting will be used in primary contests with more than three candidates for state and federal offices, but only in general elections for federal offices.
This article has been updated with comment from Bailey.