Opinion

Ranked-choice voting’s biggest impact could be in 2nd District race

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With Election Day less than two weeks away, we have to talk about ranked-choice voting.

When Maine voters walk into the voting booth — or fill out their absentee ballots — they will have a chance to rank the candidates running for U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

We’ll be the first state in the country to elect our federal delegation this way.

But. And it’s a big but.

Ranked-choice voting does not apply in the election for governor or the Maine Legislature. In those races, the elections will be decided as they traditionally have. The person with the most votes wins, regardless of whether or not he or she hits 50 percent.

Ranked-choice voting is a popular reform in Maine that has twice been supported at the ballot box by voters.

Despite the contention of critics, it’s not complicated and worked successfully in the state’s primaries in June, when Republican Shawn Moody won in the first round of voting and Democrat Janet Mills won in the fourth round in a crowded Democratic field.

In the race for U.S. Senate, voters will be able to rank independent U.S. Sen. Angus King and his two challengers, Eric Brakey and Zak Ringelstein. King is heavily favored, endorsed by a broad coalition and the state’s leading newspapers — the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald — and is likely to take the race on the first ballot.

There’s a similar circumstance in Maine’s 1st Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is running for re-election against Republican Mark Holbrook and independent Marty Grohman. Like King, Pingree looks strong in the race. She’s locked down major endorsements and left Grohman and Holbrook scrambling for many of the same Republican-leaning voters in the Democratic district.

The election in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is much more interesting. It’s a four-way race, with perennially vulnerable incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin trying to hold off a hard-charging Jared Golden, a Democrat and former Marine. Two independents, Will Hoar and Tiffany Bond, are also in the race.

A New York Times poll in the field Oct. 15-18 shows the race is a dead heat, with Golden and Poliquin knotted up with 41 percent each.

The Cook Political Report, a nationally recognized expert on congressional contests, calls the race a toss up. First-place votes cast for Bond and Hoar could ultimately decide the outcome of the race in subsequent rounds.

Poliquin, no stranger to thumbing his nose at his constituents, both in terms of his votes and the way he conducts himself — running from questions, hiding his positions, avoiding debates — has indicated he might take the path of the sore loser and challenge the results of the ranked-choice election if they don’t go his way.

According to the Sun Journal, both Hoar and Bond said Poliquin would be their last choice to represent the district, though that probably isn’t a proxy position for their supporters.

Golden is the strongest candidate in the race and has a record and a platform that would serve the people of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District well. Here’s hoping he wins on the first ballot so Poliquin doesn’t have a chance to play lawyer and challenge the results in court. (I worked with Lucas St. Clair in the Democratic primary for the 2nd District, and support Golden wholeheartedly and have contributed to his campaign, so yeah, I’m biased).

Now, back to the top of the ticket and the race for Maine governor. Like the 2nd District, the governor’s race includes four candidates: Democrat Janet Mills, Republican Shawn Moody, independent Terry Hayes and independent Alan Caron.

It’s a race to the finish line. No second votes and no second chances. Voters — and the state — would be better off with ranked-choice voting across the board. But alas, that’s not the reality.

As I wrote last week, the choice for governor is really between Mills and Moody. Voters should choose accordingly.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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