Voting rights advocates on Tuesday applauded Maine legislators for moving to expand the use of ranked-choice voting to presidential primaries and called on Gov. Janet Mills to sign the bill into law, considering the broad appeal the system has for voters.
The Democratic-controlled Maine state Senate unexpectedly passed L.D. 1083 late on Monday during a special session in a 20-12 vote with just one Democrat joining the GOP to vote against the measure.
— League of Women Voters of Maine (@LWVME) August 27, 2019
If Mills, a Democrat, signs the bill into law, Maine voters will be able to rank candidates in the presidential primary in March using a system that proponents say represents voters' views far more than simply picking one candidate.
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) said Rob Richie, president of the voting rights group Fair Vote, "upholds a core value: upholding consent of the governed."
Ranked choice voting is having a big year. Potential trailblazing wins in Maine & New York City. 1st-time uses in 5 cities. A real chance for RCV to play key role in the 2020 presidential primaries. Why does this matter? RCV upholds a core value: upholding consent of the governed
— Rob Richie (@Rob_Richie) August 27, 2019
Richie said the Senate's passage of the bill represents "trailblazing" by Maine lawmakers and voters. The state became the first to approve statewide use of RCV through a 2016 referendum, but legislators blocked its implementation until voters again approved the system in another vote last year.
Mills herself won her party's nomination last year when voters used RCV. Under the system, if no candidate wins the approval of more than half the constituents after the first round of tabulation, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and so on until one person gets at least 50 percent of vote.
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"Ranked-choice voting would be especially useful in what what could be a 20-way Democratic primary race in which voters will be trying to decide whether to vote for a favorite candidate or one who is perceived to be more electable," wrote the Portland Press Herald editorial board ahead of Monday's vote. "In a ranked-choice race, voters can listen to everyone and choose their favorites without having to think like a pundit who just predicts a winner."
Given the level of support for RCV on the part of Maine voters, the editorial board added, "you would think that Gov. Mills and the legislature would do what's necessary to honor the will of the voters. Extending a vote system already in place for existing primaries to a new primary on a different date should not be controversial."
Senate President Troy Jackson brought the bill up for a vote at the last minute after Republicans spent the day blocking three bonds brought up by Democrats.
The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting praised Jackson's decision to prioritize the bill in time for it to be implemented during the 2020 primary.
"Senate President Jackson and the Senate Democratic caucus really delivered for Maine voters," spokesman David Farmer told the Press Herald. "We knew it was a tough vote to take during the special session, but we are grateful they felt it was important that voters have ranked-choice voting (option) during the March primary."
Since Maine voters adopted statewide use of RCV in 2016, according to Fair Vote, six other states have approved its use for presidential primaries: Iowa, Nevada, Alaska, Wyoming, and Kansas.
"There is not a reform with greater momentum right now than ranked choice voting," wrote Shawn Griffiths at the Independent Voter Project last week.