A new way to vote?

Published March 21st 2007 in Bangor Daily News
Allowing voters at the polls to rank their choice of candidates rather than simply voting for one person sounds like an easy way to empower third-party candidates without putting them in a spoiler role. What hasnít been answered, however, is how instant runoff voting would work in Maine.

If lawmakers are serious about pursuing instant runoff voting, which is before them this session in LD 585, they should address its specifics with concrete information.

In 2005, lawmakers established a commission to study alternative voting along with other election issues. The group, which issued a report in January 2006, said instant runoff voting was too complex to be reviewed during its tenure. Rather than leave this work undone, lawmakers should ask that instant runoff voting be more thoroughly reviewed.

LD 585 would initiate instant runoff voting in gubernatorial races in 2014. Voters would rank candidates rather than choosing just one. In each round, the candidate with fewest first- choice votes would be eliminated. This would continue until two candidates remain. The one with the most votes would then be the winner. The bill is supported by Democrats, Republicans and an unenrolled lawmaker.

The billís lead sponsor, Rep. John Hinck, a Portland Democrat, says instant runoff voting gives a truer picture of the feelings of the electorate. It is already clear that the stateís voters donít fall into two or even three camps. Rep. Hinck also says it would give whoever is elected governor a greater mandate. (But does anyone think that if Gov. John Baldacci received 51 percent of the vote rather than 38 percent, heíd be more popular today?)

Maine has a long history of crowded gubernatorial fields. Five candidates were on the ballot last year so it does not appear that third-party participation is a challenge.

The use of computer technology makes this kind of voting much more possible. Although, the voting systems in many states have a hard enough time keeping track of only one set of votes; multiple sets would both test it and require voters to be clear on their ballots. Federal support would be needed for states to change their voting equipment ó and improve it. But inadequate equipment is not a reason to hold back on an idea that encourages participation in democracy.

Instant runoff voting might build confidence in the election process, force candidates to run more positive campaigns and give people more reasons to vote.

It is worth further consideration.