IRV Action Alert from Common Cause Maine (March 16, 2007)

Many candidates, one race?
Try Instant Runoff Voting

By Justin Alfond
Published December 18th 2006 in Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
Blame the Maine Clean Election Act for actually doing what it promised: leveling the playing field for statewide candidates so that those with sufficient grassroots support can have equal and limited funding for their campaign.

This has led to an increase in promising and competitive campaigns for Governor of Maine. This year, Barbara Merrill, Pat LaMarche and Chandler Woodcock all used Clean Election funds, and all ran good, viable campaigns.

Having more choice is good for democracy.

However, numerous simultaneous campaigns for the same office mean the winner of that particular race will likely come out with less than a majority of votes.

Indeed, this year, Governor Baldacci was re-elected with only 38 percent of the votes. You could ask if Baldacci really gained the people's mandate for his agenda.

It makes sense for our elected officials to be supported by a majority of voters, not merely a plurality. However, our state laws only require a plurality to be elected. There is a simple solution to the specter of plurality-elected lawmakers, one that ensures our elected officials have a majority of support.

That solution is Instant Runoff Voting.

Instant Runoff Voting is a system now in place in a number of municipalities around the United States. It has been used for years in several other countries. Burlington, Vt. and San Francisco have recently begun using it, and Ireland and Australia have used it for years. In this year's November election, four additional municipalities in the U.S., including Oakland, Calif. and Minneapolis, voted to create Instant Runoff voting systems.

Here's how it works: voters indicate their favorite candidate, just like they do now, but at the same time they also rank their runoff choices -- one, two, or three -- on the ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of first rankings, they, of course, win. However, if no candidate has a majority of first rankings, the voters' second and third rankings are used to determine the majority winner.

For example, Steve, Tina and Abby are on the ballot running for the same elected position. Voting day ends, and voters' first rankings are counted. The results show Steve with 42 percent, Abby with 41 percent and Tina with 17 percent. Because no candidate achieved a majority, the instant runoff system would be used.

Election officials would redistribute Tina's second place rankings -- as determined by the voters -- to Steve or Abby.

After doing so, the results give Abby 51 percent of the vote and Steve 49 percent of the vote. Abby is the winner of this three-way race.

Besides ensuring that the winner of the election has support from a majority of voters, the instant runoff system also eliminates the concerns about "spoiler" candidates and is likely to lead to more positive campaigning. In the instant runoff system, candidates are less likely to alienate the supporters of another candidate by nasty attack ads because they are looking to be that voter's second choice if they can't be their first.

Most importantly, we as the voters benefit from such a system because we can more clearly express our desires in the voting booth. In a four-way race, we will no longer have to consider how we think other people are voting so as to prevent our least-favorite candidate from winning. We can feel liberated to vote our hopes in order of preference.

At least one instant runoff system bill has been submitted this session in Augusta. The legislation has bipartisan co-sponsors: Seth Berry, a Democrat from Bowdoinham and Gary Knight, a Republican from Livermore Falls. Both of these lawmakers understand that Clean Elections are working and Maine's three parties are giving voters more choice, hence the time for Instant Runoff Voting has come.

The Maine Clean Election Act is here to stay. And that means we are likely to see future races for governor and statewide legislative races with multiple qualified candidates.

Maine would benefit when the winner of these races is supported by at least 50 percent of the voters, and IRV accomplishes this.

Justin Alfond is Maine State Director of the League of Young Voters in Portland; the League's Website is

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