I was asked last week about “ranked choice” voting. Essentially, how it goes, is that voters can rank their preferences on their ballot or perhaps choose their top two or three. 

We saw the effect of this in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District where Congressman Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) won the Election Night tally but did so by only 46.41 percent (131,631 votes) to 45.48 percent (128,999) over his Democratic challenger Jared Golden. An independent candidate Tiffany Bond was a distant third with 5.73 percent (16,260 votes). An additional independent/third party candidate, William Hoar, placed 4th and he earned 2.38 percent of the votes (6753 votes). There were, I believe, additional candidates on the ballot, as well as, write-ins (with this system a person can only write-in one name and then has to rank the candidates on the ballot.

In Maine, as I understand it, in a race with more than two candidates if a candidate does not win over 50 percent then that triggers the “ranked choice” run-off where the candidate coming in last drops off until a candidate reaches over 50 percent. 

The final result ended with Golden as the winner with 50.53 percent of the vote (139,231 votes) and Poliquin with 49.47 percent (136,326 votes).

Poliquin attempted to stop the ranked choice recount in court, he failed. He has filed suit over the results claiming the process is unconstitutional because it violates the principle of “one person, one vote.”

I’m not sold on this for Iowa because I don’t think it’s necessary to have a candidate chosen by a majority of the electorate. Having a candidate win by a plurality is fine with me when there are multiple candidates on the ballot. 

That said, I see the positives. For starters, it encourages voting for a third-party candidate. The “you are wasting your vote” argument goes out the window. Secondly, if you live in a state that requires a run-off if a candidate does not receive more than 50 percent this method saves taxpayer money compared to holding a run-off election. 

So, I’m willing to have a conversation about ranked choice voting for the sake of breaking out of a two-party system, but I don’t think it is necessary to have a candidate win by over 50 percent. Regardless of Golden’s win (provided it is not overturned in court which I don’t see happening) he was not the first choice for over 50 percent of those who voted and wasn’t even the top choice of a winning plurality on Election Night. 

3 comments
  1. A bit unclear on how this works if there are four or five candidates in the original field. Does the runoff field consist of the original candidates less the bottom finisher? What happens if no one reaches 50 percent in the runoff?

  2. This system has been used widely in Australia for many decades. It is quite simple and works fine – just rank the candidates in the order you prefer them.

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