In a perfect world: Ranked-choice voting

Make that "fraud"
By AL DIAMON  |  November 24, 2010

My unbiased analysis of the 2010 Maine gubernatorial election reveals that most voters didn't want any of the candidates to win. The proof? A sizable majority voted against each of them.

That's prompted some well-meaning idiots to suggest the state adopt a new system wherein the victor could claim some kind of mandate. This method, used in places such as Iraq and Myanmar, is called "fraud."

Here, it's usually referred to as "run-off" or "ranked-choice" voting. It's a marketing thing. The "fraud" name didn't test well in focus groups.

Using this approach, the public gets stuck with a governor most of them have already rejected. Which is the same result we have now, only more complicated.

Among the advocates of changing our system are supporters of independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler. According to a November 10 story in Cutler's official campaign publication, the Portland Press Herald, "With ranked-choice voting, Cutler most likely would have won the election, because he was the most popular second choice of [Democrat Elizabeth] Mitchell voters, said Scott Ruffner, a real estate broker in Bangor who serves on the platform committee of the Maine Democratic Party."

Far be it from me to call into question the astute political insights of a Bangor real-estate agent, but it seems obvious that Cutler finished a close second to Republican Paul LePage by attracting not only disaffected Dems, but also by gaining support from moderate members of the GOP and a fair-sized chunk of voters who didn't belong to any party. At least a few of these people might have listed LePage as their second choice.

Or maybe they preferred independent Shawn Moody. I didn't meet anyone during the campaign who didn't like Moody. What if he was everybody's fall-back option? Under the revisionists' plan, he'd be governor-elect today, even though he only received 5 percent of the initial vote.

There's a mandate.

The Maine Green Independent Party is also advocating for what it calls "majority-rule voting," which is another focus-group-approved name for "ranked-choice." The Greens — so poorly organized this year that their gubernatorial candidate dropped out of the race — are threatening to launch a referendum drive to put this issue on next year's ballot.

"Majority-rule voting is the fairest way to find a compromise between blocs of voters in Maine," Green official Jeremy Corbally-Hammond wrote in a letter to the Lewiston Sun Journal. "We deserve a system that finds common ground for all citizens."

Except that elections aren't intended to find common ground, a type of property that's rarer than luxurious, ocean-front homes priced under $200,000.

Elections are about winners and losers. By establishing clear differences between the two groups, we avoid gridlock. The winners get to govern. The losers get to whine.

Which is what the latter crowd seems to be doing. It's difficult to believe that Cutler and the Greens would be calling for a revised system if they'd been victorious on November 2. It's also worth noting that Cutler never mentioned any of these alleged reforms (such as abolishing early voting, something he frequently engaged in himself) until after he came up short on election day.

An oversight?

Or sour grapes?

Either way, I'm not unsympathetic to calls for change. Like most Mainers, I wasn't pleased with this year's gubernatorial options. But I still wanted to express my opinion. I just wanted to do it in a way that neither the current system nor Cutlerian griping would allow.

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