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Q&A: Maine's the 1st but how will ranked-choice voting work?

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Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine officials announced Monday that the state will become the first to let voters rank candidates in a statewide primary election.

The system will be introduced during June primary elections, which includes a crowded race for governor. Maine voters will choose among two dozen or so candidates to compete in the general election in the fall. Incumbent Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, cannot run again because of term limits.

State lawmakers tried to delay ranked-choice voting, but supporters collected enough signatures to allow the system to be used in the June 12 vote.

Besides choosing their party's nominee for governor, voters in June will also decide whether to use the ranked-choice voting for federal elections in November, Democratic Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said.

Several cities around the country have used ranked-choice voting for municipal elections, but Maine will become a test case for how it can be used in statewide primary contests.


At the ballot box, a voter would rank party candidates from first to last, in order of preference.

A candidate who gets a majority of first-place votes is the winner. If no one wins a majority, the last-place finisher is eliminated and voters' second choices are applied to the remaining candidates. The process repeats until someone gets a majority.

The new voting method will encourage primary candidates to seek majority support by appealing to the widest possible swath of voters.

"It does make candidates think twice about how they engage their opponents," said Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. "Negative campaigning can backfire."



Maine's high court has warned that ranked-choice voting poses constitutional issues for general-election gubernatorial and legislative contests. That's because the state constitution requires election winners to be decided by a plurality. The provision means simply that the candidate with the most votes wins.

In response, the Legislature limited ranked-choice voting to federal races and primary elections.



Lawmakers by the end of March would have to adopt regulations covering everything from conducting recounts to ballot security. The state would also have to buy high speed tabulators and software, and prepare an election database and ballot layout. Then in April, Dunlap wants the state to create voter instruction manuals and prepare training materials for local election officials. By mid-May, he wants Maine to pinpoint a central, secure location in Augusta to conduct ranked-choice voting and recounts.



It's unclear whether ranked-choice voting will find a new home in other states given general disinterest among the major political parties.

Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, said his research suggests that the voting method dampens turnout, particularly among marginalized and less-educated voters.

"Maine will definitely be out there alone on this one, and I'd be surprised if any other states in the near future adopted it," McDaniel said.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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