would change Maine's voting system to instant runoff
Chris Hourcle voted for Ralph Nader for president in 2000, but
didn't even look at his platform last fall. The Bar Harbor resident
instead picked a candidate who had a chance to win - not one he
believed in. "I decided I couldn't risk it," Hourcle said.
Two Portland lawmakers are pushing for a new law to take that
risk out of voting. State House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings,
D-Portland, and Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, want the state to
use a so-called instant runoff system.
Under it, a candidate's electability would no longer be a factor.
Voters instead would get to rank their choices for president,
governor and legislative seats on their ballots. Those preferences
would help to determine the winner if no candidate got a majority of
"There is no place in Maine for an unfair system that leaves
people feeling their vote does not matter," Cummings told the
Legislature's Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee during a public
With an instant runoff, the candidate with the lowest vote total
would be eliminated. His or her votes would shift to the remaining
candidates, according to preferences that the voters list. The
elimination would continue until one candidate wins a majority.
In races with three or more candidates, elected officials often
win less than 50 percent of the votes. For example, each of Maine's
last five governors has won at least one election without capturing
If the new voting system wins approval, Maine will be the first
state to have it. Now, only cities such as San Francisco and
Cambridge, Mass., and countries such as Ireland and Australia use
the instant runoff system.
Lawmakers have rejected the proposal twice in the last four
years. But the second time, they called for a study by the Secretary
of State's Office. It found that the state could transition to the
new system, but the change could be costly and create challenges for
local election officials.
Kate Dufour, a lobbyist for the Maine Municipal Association,
which represents cities and towns, said the instant runoff system
would create new costs, cause confusion for voters and make ballot
counting more difficult for clerks.
But election-reform advocates see the idea gaining support each
year and plan to continue to push it. Strimling said a pilot program
in Portland and a few other Maine communities may be a good next
"If it doesn't pass, it will go farther than it did last
time," said Rep. John Patrick, D-Rumford, co-chairman of the
Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee.