Reformers Urge New Method for Voting

By Maria NoŽl Mandile
Published February 24th 2003 in Portsmouth Herald

Election-reform advocates are pushing the state to consider a new method of voting, called "instant run-off voting," or IRV.

IRV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no one wins the majority vote, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and a run-off is recounted immediately.

Australia, Ireland and some U.S. and British cities currently use the system. State Rep. Thomas Bull, a Democrat from Freeport, sponsored the bill in Maine.

"Instant run-off voting is a way of making sure that whoever wins (an election) has more than 50 percent of the vote," explained Senate President Beverly Dagget, a Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill.

Maines last five governors - John Baldacci, Angus King, John McKernan, Joseph Brennan and James Longley - won at least one election without a majority vote.

Dagget said that IRV may or may not change the outcome of a vote, but it ensures that the candidate most preferred by the public wins.

"It gives a much more clear indication of the will of the people," said Bull.

It also allows more candidates to get involved in a race without "spoiling" the results by taking votes from primary candidates.

Proponents of IRV add that it reduces mudslinging and negative campaigning, because candidates will want supporters of other candidates to place them as second and third choices.

But opponents say the new process could confuse voters and cause more problems than it solves.

"As straightforward as (IRV) is, people still make mistakes," said Kate Defour, legislative advocate for the Maine Municipal Association in Augusta. "We think theres a greater chance of error and invalidation of ballots."

To this, Bull responded, "I think theyre discrediting the intelligence of the voters."

IRV has the potential to take effect with next falls elections. But such a fast change is unlikely, said supporters.

Bull said it would be better for the state of Maine to think carefully about IRV and take time deciding how best to implement it.

"There are a lot of logistical issues that need to be worked out," he said.

It could cost as much as $9 million to revamp machines, change ballots and educate the public, explained Dagget.

"Thats a real cost to communities," said Defour. "Everybody is having budget problems."

Dagget agreed. "With todays limited resources, we'd probably be looking at health care and education first," she said.