Maine on Tuesday became the first state in the country to move to “ranked-choice voting,” an electoral system designed to stop a divisive candidate win in a crowded field, not unlike Donald Trump in the Republican primary.
By a 52 to 48 percent margin, voters in Maine approved ballot Question Five to create ranked-choice voting, also known as “instant-runoff voting,” for the governorship, U.S. Senate and House, and state Senate and House. Under the system, voters rank all the candidates for each office in order of preference instead of voting just for their favorite candidate.
If one candidate receives at least 50 percent of all first-place votes, that candidate wins. But if none do, then the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated from the race. The votes that went to that eliminated candidate are then reallocated according to voters’ ranked preferences. That process is repeated until one candidate wins a majority of votes.
The idea, advocates argue, is that ranked-choice voting will promote candidates that appeal to a broad group of people rather than divisive candidates with a strong base. The system also eliminates the threat of third-party candidates playing a “spoiler” role and unintentionally electing the candidate that voters dislike most.
“Question 5 levels the playing field for candidates with the best ideas and gives more choice and more voice to voters, so you never have to vote for the lesser of two evils,” Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for the Yes on 5 ballot proposal, said in a statement.
The issue was personal for Maine, which has had a number of candidates win office without receiving the support of a majority of voters. Controversial Republican Governor Paul LePage, for example, was elected in 2010 with 38 percent of the vote partly due to an independent candidate that split the opposition vote.
The Republican presidential primaries earlier this year saw a similar dynamic. Trump was opposed by a majority of Republicans but still won a number of primaries by plurality thanks to a large crowd of candidates that dispersed the vote, as The Atlantic wrote in April. FairVote, a non-profit that supports ranked-choice voting, found that Trump would have won just two of Super Tuesday’s eleven state primaries if ranked-choice voting had been used.