Joe’s Journal

Ms. P on ranked choice voting

Posted:  Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - 9:45am

Miss Pigette called me the other day with a question.

“Ok, Mr. newspaper guy, you have been involved in a few elections, right? I just want to check with you to make sure I understand the new voting system we will be using in the June primary election,” she said.

“If you ask me, ranked choice voting sounds about as complicated as a Chinese arithmetic problem, or baseball’s infield fly rule. I’ll bet it was proposed by the folks who are still mad that Paul LePage was elected with less than 50 percent of the vote. Seems to me, if they had gotten off their collective duffs and got behind another candidate, instead of splitting the vote between the Democrat and an Independent, the good citizens pushing ranked choice voting would have defeated LePage.”

“Besides, didn’t the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rule (in an advisory opinion) that the state constitution says the general election winner must have a plurality, not a majority?” Wouldn’t you have to amend the constitution to use it in November?”

“I know,” I replied. “But, that is for the general election, not the primary. Last week, a Superior Court judge ordered Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to use it in the primary. I’ll bet it goes back to the top court.”

“OK, wise guy, let me know if I have got it right,”  said the smiling porcine figure holding up a mailbox on Rt. 27 across the street from Joan Rittall’s house. “A voter will designate his/her first choice for governor. Then designate a second choice, then third choice and so forth. What happens next?”

“Then it gets interesting,” I said. “If one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she is elected. If no one gets more than 50 percent, the candidate who got the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and the voters who supported him have their votes shifted to their second choice. This process repeats until one candidate reaches a majority and wins.

Your vote counts for your second choice only if your first choice has been eliminated.

“OK,” she said. “Who is running for governor? Anybody I know?”

I told her there are four Republican candidates and seven Democrats. And, to add to the confusion, two of the Democrats have the same last name – Dion.

“Well,” Ms. Pigette mused. “Isn’t that special. With four Repubs and seven Demos, it looks like the ranked choice primary election will be a three-alarm dumpster fire, at best.”

I had to agree with her. While the rules have not been set for the new system, the League of Women Voters claims the votes will probably have to be counted in a central place, like Augusta.

That brought a quick reaction from Ms. P. “If it is still snowing, it might take days to bring the votes from “The County” down to Augusta. What would happen if they lose a bunch of ballots in transit? We might not know the winner before July 4.”

“The League also says it will cost more and will be open to legal challenges. However, the legislature has not approved the $800,000 sought to pay for the new system.”

I mentioned that the current occupant of the White House rants about rigged elections. “Do you think ranked choice voting will guard us against ‘rigged’ elections?”

“Oh piffle,” said Ms. P. “Here in Maine, elections are run by our local clerks and volunteers. They are our friends and neighbors. We know them. We trust them. We don’t worry about rigged elections with our local clerks in charge of the count.”

“I know. I know,” I answered. “But the reformers pushing this system say it is needed to allow folks outside the regular party structure to compete.”

Once again, Ms. P snorted. “I’ll bet that argument went over well with the party regulars, especially those in office. Do they want more outsiders running against them? Do you think that is why the ranked voting movement has drawn so much opposition in Augusta?”

“One more thing,” I mentioned. “The League says it will reduce negative campaigning.”

“Sure it will,” she said. “That is as likely to happen as I am to throw off the mailbox, say a magic word, and turn into Wonder Woman the magic superhero pig.

“Listen to me on this one, you old news dog. The only thing it will accomplish is to crank up the billable hours for election law attorneys. This system will trigger so much new litigation that it will make millionaires out of guys who couldn’t get a gig with the ‘slip and fall’ and ‘drunk driving’ law firms. Remember the old slogan. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”