Election 2018

Maine Voters Prepare to Rank Their Congressional Candidates to Choose Winners

Launch of statewide ranked-choice voting will help us see who best earns the support of independents.

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Voting
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In just a couple of weeks we're all going to see an election experiment that could perhaps change the way votes are counted—or so some folks with their eyes on Maine hope.

November's election will be Maine's first use of ranked-choice voting to determine the winners of three elections—for one U.S. senator and two U.S. House seats. And with the way polls for at least one race are going, independent-minded voters are going to affect the outcome in a manner that can actually be tracked.

In ranked-choice voting, people are asked not to just select one candidate for office, but to rank the candidates by order of preference. If there are four candidates, for example, you can choose the candidate you prefer the most and also rank the others second, third, and fourth.

When it comes time to count the votes, in order for a candidate to win, he or she must have a majority of the votes, not just a plurality. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated from the race. But those votes aren't thrown away. The ballots are tallied again, and for those who voted for the eliminated race, their second choice is counted instead. And so it goes, until one candidate has a majority of the votes and is declared the winner.

The point of ranked-choice voting is to try to enfranchise voters by making it possible to vote for third-party or independent candidates without actually "throwing their vote away." Proponents of ranked-choice voting see it as a tool of making candidates reach out to a larger pool of voters rather than just playing to their voting bases in "winner takes all" campaigns that mostly focus on getting the right voters to come to the polls. Ranked-choice voting doesn't necessarily make it easier for third-party candidates to win, but it makes their voices and their voters harder to ignore.

Several cities in the United States have ranked-choice voting for local races. Maine, as a result of a couple of state ballot initiatives, will be implementing it for the first time for federal congressional races. Voters had actually decided they want to have ranked-choice voting for many state-level elections as well, but Maine's constitution explicitly requires a plurality of votes to be declared the winner of those elections, not a majority. An advisory from the state's top court warned that the state's constitution needs to be altered, but lawmakers who do not want to see ranked-choice voting implemented have dragged their feet and have not yet done so. So to avoid that constitutional concern, this election will only cover federal races.

Now attention is focused on Maine's 2nd Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin is fending off a challenge from Democrat Jared Golden, and two independents, Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar. Polling shows that the two independents have almost no chance of winning, getting less than 10 percent of the vote between the two of them in most polls.

But the polls also show pretty much a dead heat between Poliquin and Golden. FiveThirtyEight's poll analysis gives the edge to Golden, but it's far from secure. It's very likely that as the first round of votes are tallied, neither Poliquin nor Golden will garner more than 50 percent of the vote. Therefore, what's going to determine the outcome of this race may very well be who voters for the two independents selected as their second choice—or even their third.

Fundamentally this means independent voters will determine the outcome of the race in a way that doesn't make them "spoilers." They are not depriving the major party candidates of votes, not that the Democrats or Republicans should feel entitled to them. Instead, independent and third-party voters get to have their cake and their … less tasty, more mainstream cake, if they would like. Because of this ranked-choice voting system, we'll be able to see exactly what's going on in the heads of independent voters. They can vote for their favorite and then select the Democrat or the Republican as their second choice. Or they may not. Voters aren't required to rank their choices. It's an option.

When the final votes are tallied, the winner may well be the one who best convinced those who do not identify as Democrats or Republicans to vote for them. Partisans often whine that third-party voters end up helping their opponents. On a fundamental level, this is political entitlement nonsense that improperly treats voters like they belong to the political parties instead of the other way around. But it's also often not entirely true. Polling often shows third-party voters split between the main parties. In this election, we'll get to be able to track where independent votes actually go.

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  1. I am really hoping this idea takes off. There’s a lot of ideas for structural reform in the way voting and governance is conducted and it’s about time we experiment with some of these ideas.

  2. I still hope we can get to some point where we can do away with winner take all voting altogether.

    1. Better yet do away with voting. Let people sign up for the government they want.

      1. I would support a lottery system for choosing representatives. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who wants a job like that can’t be trusted with it.

        1. Like Catholic priests.

        2. Here’s a link to a site, Equality By Lot, devoted to promoting “sortition”-based legislatures: https://equalitybylot.com

          1. Maxine Waters. Could a lottery produce anyone more dumb?

        3. sarcasmic: “I would support a lottery system for choosing representatives.

          That does not necessarily mean anything will improve. If politicians can rig elections they can certainly rig lotteries.

          sarcasmic:”As far as I’m concerned, anyone who wants a job like that can’t be trusted with it.

          Putting into office someone who does NOT want the job is likely to result, at best, in benign neglect (and maybe an absentee officeholder). Putting people into office who did not want to be there was one of the (many) problems with the Continental Congress. How well did it work out?

          1. I fully support electing candidates who really don’t want the job and essentially neglect it. That way they don’t fuck with the rest of us…

            1. @Enemy of the State: Actually, they WOULD be “fucking” with you. For it would mean that they would be being paid by the taxpayer for a job they were NOT performing, at least adequately! Do you really want to see your tax dollars being flushed down the toilet?

              Worse, if there were enough of that sort in Congress then in all likelihood the executive would operate without any oversight (leading to all kinds of abuses from the executive branch), to (in a worse case scenario) there not being enough senators or representatives interested in sticking around to pass funding bills, amongst other things. Which in turn would mean everything from the Army to the Justice Dept to funding grants that the state & local governments (which get more thann $700 billion per year from the feds) to keep such things as the police, schools, roads, and public hospitals going. Would you like them to shut down as well or maybe you’d prefer the states lifted their own taxes to make up the shortfall?

              All in all you haven’t really thought through the ramifications.

  3. Good for Maine. But why is independents deciding a race necessarily preferable to anyone else deciding a race? When you consider that nearly all of the worst ideas that politicians come up with are “bi partisan”, chances are independents having a larger say will be worse than if they didn’t.

    And the arrogance of this post is astounding. It never occurs to Scott that maybe stupid people can be independents too. He seems to be making a case for that albeit uninentionally.

    1. I didn’t get that at all from the article.

      1. You didn’t get “Fuck Scott” from the article? Weird.

    2. He’s not saying Independents are smarter. He’s just saying that it would be interesting to see how they actually feel when you take the “throwing your vote away” argument out of the equation. Maybe support for third parties is much higher than indicated otherwise.

      1. Perhaps but I doubt it. At best they will be several people’s second choice because they hate the other party so much. But I am not really sure how that means anything.

    3. Independents make up the majority of the voters – around 60% +/-. Based on that, their opinions SHOULD hold sway…

  4. The point of ranked-choice voting is to try to enfranchise voters by making it possible to vote for third-party or independent candidates without actually “throwing their vote away.”

    How the fuck am I supposed to be smug about throwing my vote away if, when the person for whom I threw away my vote is chucked, they pull my ballot out of the trash and use it anyway against my will? This is the worst kind of disenfranchisement.

    1. Are Mainers actually forced to rank ALL the candidates or can you only rank the ones you choose to rank, leaving the rest off entirely. Hopefully it’s the latter.

      1. They’ll try to guess the other rankings by gauging the hang of the chads.

        1. the dems will rank their person first and the republican last and republicans will do the opposite. but since those are the two major parties it will be one of them winning anyway so every party in between will still be disenfranchised

      2. It’s the latter.

    2. How is it against your will? You were the one who listed a 2nd choice. You could’ve abstained on that.

  5. Now attention is focused on Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin is fending off a challenge from Democrat Jared Golden, and two independents, Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar. Polling shows that the two independents have almost no chance of winning, getting less than 10 percent of the vote between the two of them in most polls.

    And yet it’s almost a certainty that no matter who wins the election. it’ll be a hoar taking office in January.

  6. Hy Scott, will all the data be available for this? EG, will we know the breakdown of second and third place votes based on who was picked 1st on the ballot.

    To me that’s the only way this really would accomplish anything: to let people know exactly how people were voting, not just the final outcome.

    1. we can call it Field Independent Voting. now, to find a handy acronym for that.

  7. People dont vote already because it takes too much effort.

    We dont need to know why the losers lost. They lost for many reasons and like polls, the reasons dont really want to be understood.

    This is another gimmick to try to control elections. Just like biased polls are.

    1. How is this a gimmick to control the polls? This has a chance of showing that the eventual establishment winner didn’t have nearly as much support as the final tally indicates. This can only undermine the establishment, and that’s why it’s being fought by many career politicians.

    2. People dont vote already because it takes too much effort.

      I don’t vote because there’s never anyone on the ballot worth voting for.

      1. ^this.

        If I vote, it’s because there is someone I feel a strong need to vote against.

        The 2000 Presidential election was not the victory of GW Bush over Al Gore, it was the victory of Anybody but Gore over Anybody but Bush.

        Likewise, 2016 came down to the victory of #NeverHillary over #NeverTrump.

  8. How about legitimizing “None of the above” instead?

    1. For the first century of the nation’s history, skepticism of power was a cherished American value. Politicians were measured not by what they did, but by what the didn’t do. The less they did the better people thought of them. Perhaps if we could vote for “None of the above” and actually leave offices empty, meaning that nothing gets done for 2, 4, or 6 years, we could see a return of that traditional American value.

      1. For the first century of the nation’s history, skepticism of power was a cherished American value.

        Maybe the first couple of decades. Maybe.

  9. Seems pretty non-controversial. Who could be against using a better measure of voter preferences?
    Except of course the people who run things now…

    1. And their blind followers.

  10. They are not depriving the major party candidates of votes, not that the Democrats or Republicans should feel entitled to them.

    Tell that to Hillary who was deprived of her rightful votes by sneaky Russians.

  11. What would be fascinating is if a lagging third party candidate pulled out a win because no one felt they were throwing their vote away. That would be awesome.

  12. This is just bad journalism, a puff piece about RCV completely devoid of any mention of the system’s flaws, of which there are many. Besides the issues with RCV itself, it’s impetus was purely partisan – a move by progressives to elect more democrats – not this altruistic bs about voter enfranchisement.

    1. In localities that put in place top-two systems, that’s often the case. Why would this particular system (RCV) serve Democrats better?

      1. Maine, where I live, has a lot of third party voters, and candidates – independents actually make up a plurality of registered voters – but they tend to be quite liberal so the thinking goes that most of the people voting third party would pick the democrat as their second choice. Their reasoning (correct or not) is pretty obvious if you look at the context of the RCV movement in Maine, which started after Governor Lepage (R) was first elected and really picked up steam when all of the liberals totally lost it after he was reelected over Democratic party stalwart Mike Michaud. Both times Elliot Cutler (I) was charged with stealing the election from the Democrat, even though he almost won in 2010 while the Democrat received less than 10%.
        Pre-Lepage there was never any talk about the need for a new election system, even though only one gubernatorial election in the last 30 years – now Sen. Angus King’s reelection in ’98 – was won by and actual majority, and Lepage received one of the largest pluralities in that span in his reelection campaign (48.2%). On the other hand, his Democratic predecessor John Baldacci won reelection with 38%, but I didn’t hear a peep about the problem with pluralities then.

        1. Maine, where I live, has a lot of third party voters, and candidates – independents actually make up a plurality of registered voters – but they tend to be quite liberal so the thinking goes that most of the people voting third party would pick the democrat as their second choice.

          Ok, so what it sounds like is you’re suggesting that the spoiler effect is the only thing that gets more conservative candidates elected?

          1. To be clear, I don’t personally think that, but I think most Democrats here do. When the conversation about RCV first started, and even in the signature gathering stage for the petition, proponents were openly marketing it as a way to prevent another Lepage from being elected governor. Once it got on the ballot the argument became less partisan.

            1. I’m not arguing against your point, I’m just trying to understand it. It seemed you had some knowledge about the local scene there so I was curious. I tend to be very leery about systems that try to improve the basic democratic process by either amplifying certain voices or modulating others. Too often there are unintended consequences.

              Where I live, they went to a top-two primary system. All that happened was that conservative candidates have now been literally wiped from the post-primary ballot. Sure, they never won anyway, now they’re simply gone. Your choice post-primary is: far-left democrat & Pol Pot.

              I think it’s good to hear arguments on all sides of the issue.

    2. “it’s impetus was purely partisan – a move by progressives to elect more democrats – not this altruistic bs about voter enfranchisement.”

      Yeah, politicians tend to prefer the interests of their party over that of the country – except when the two interests are in harmony, when they get a chance to prefer both interests. Like here.

      1. Exactly. That’s what made me mad about this article: Reason usually delights in pointing out this type of thinly veiled political motivation, but totally ignored it in this case. Political motivation aside, I still think RCV is a bad idea and voted against it. I would have been much happier had we chosen to use approval voting instead.

        1. I’m afraid I’m a bit fuzzy on the distinction between the two methods. 🙁

          1. Approval voting uses the same standard ballot, but voters get to vote for however many candidates they want and the candidate with the most total votes wins. Here’s a good anlysis comparing the two https://electology.org/approval-voting-versus-irv

            1. Yes, thanks for that. It’s my experience that systems that attempt to meddle with vote-totaling tend to favor the dominant party (in localized elections).

              For instance, if a place tends to lean heavily democrat and a top-two (or perhaps RCV) is put in place, it tends to solidify the dominant party’s position.

              Essentially, if the local population leans democrat, then the choice tends to fall into Democrat A, B, C etc. Where previously the population was torn between A, B & C, that fractured vote would let the minority party get a foothold.

              As James Madison points out in Federalist #10, this at least lets the beleaguered minority have a chance.

              1. Why not just allow some low minimum barrier of entry for appearing on a ballot?

  13. I can think of at least one good side effect – some politicians will know (and be reminded constantly) that the deciding votes in electing them were cast by people who would have preferred someone else.

    I won’t say it will make politicians humble, because I don’t know of anything that could do that. But it would make them more mockable. “Hi, there, Mr. Second-Best Choice!”

  14. You’ll end up with the same results of one of the two major parties winning and if a republican wins the democrats will claim its not valid and try to change the rules again

    1. That would happen anyway, whatever reforms are on the books.

      Dems gonna Dem and Reps gonna Rep.

  15. OMG, what if Indies choose Republican Conservatives?

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