By Christian Wade | The Center Square
Maine is considered a battleground in next Tuesday’s election, but the state is also getting attention for how its voters will select the next president.
On Nov. 3, Maine will become the first state to use “ranked choice” voting to pick a presidential candidate. Voters will be given ballots allowing them to “rank” their choices for incumbent Republican President Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden as well as presidential candidates and their running mates from the Libertarian, Green Independent and Alliance parties.
Maine’s system, approved by voters in 2016, has been used in congressional races and has survived repeal efforts and legal challenges. The most recent was a ruling this month by the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected a last-ditch effort by the state Republican Party to prevent ranked choice from being used in the election.
“One person, one vote is a bedrock American principle,” Demi Kouzounas, the chairwoman of the Maine Republican Party, said in a news release in February, when the effort was launched. “Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a direct violation of that principle and threatens the rights of all Mainers and delegitimatizes our election process.”
Supporters of ranked choice say it ensures that winning candidates have broad support and gives voters the option of multiple choices. It also avoids creating “spoiler” candidates who siphon votes from a Democratic or Republican candidate, and help tip the race to their opponent, they say.
“We have eliminated the possibility of spoilers in Maine,” said Cara McCormick, a co-founder of the state’s Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, which advocated for the law. “That will never happen here, because we have a system that prevents that from happening. We have chosen a better way to vote.”
Maine voters will also use ranked choice to decide a U.S Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Sara Gideon. Two independent candidates – Max Linn and Lisa Savage – are also on the ballot, as are several write-in candidates.
Political observers say Maine’s new system could possibly impact not only the makeup of the U.S. Senate but also help decide who wins the presidency.
Maine splits its four Electoral College votes by congressional district. In 2016, Trump peeled away the largely rural 2nd Congressional District from Democrat Hillary Clinton, winning one electoral vote, while Clinton won the statewide race and the 1st District, giving her the state’s other three electoral votes.
While polls show Biden leading Trump overall in the Pine Tree State, the two appear to be running neck-and-neck in the 2nd District.
Likewise, Collins could be in trouble if a progressive candidate like Savage peels away votes from her by becoming a second choice for voters after Gideon.
“There’s a very good chance ranked choice voting will determine the outcome in the U.S. Senate race,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.
“You can also easily see a situation where [Libertarian presidential candidate] Jo Jorgensen and the other independent candidates collectively come up with a large enough percentage of the total vote to deprive either Biden or Trump of a majority in the 2nd Congressional District,” he said. “So then you’d have to look at ranked choice to decide that district, and that would take days.”
The success of ranked choice in Maine also has public policy implications far beyond its borders, as other states are toying with the idea of moving away from winner-take-all elections.
Last year, lawmakers in at least 22 states introduced bills to adopt various forms of ranked choice voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
While some U.S. cities like San Francisco and Santa Fe, New Mexico have used ranked choice voting for years, Maine is the only state to make the switch broadly.
In neighboring Massachusetts, voters will be deciding a ballot question on Nov. 3 that would approve ranked choice voting for congressional, state and local races beginning in 2022. It would not be allowed for presidential elections.