This November, Maine voters won’t be “throwing their votes away” if they decide to vote for a third-party candidate because they’ll still be able to vote for Joe Biden or Donald Trump.
On Monday, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court upheld the use of ranked-choice voting for its presidential and congressional races, resisting efforts by the state’s Republican Party to force a stop to its use.
In ranked-choice voting, citizens aren’t asked to just choose a single candidate. They are permitted to rank the candidates from most to least favorite. In order to win a ranked-choice vote, a candidate is required to earn a majority of the votes (more than 50 percent), not just a plurality. In the event no candidate gets a majority of the votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is tossed out of the running. Then the votes are tallied again, but for voters whose favorite was just tossed out, their second choice now counts as their vote. This continues until one candidate has earned at least 50 percent of the votes.
Proponents of ranked-choice voting argue that this pushes races away from polarizing winner-takes-all campaigns and allows people to support independent and third-party candidates while still being able to vote for the Democratic or Republican Party nominee if they so choose.
Ranked-choice voting was approved by the Maine voters twice, but the state’s Republican Party has been resistant. Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage served two terms without ever winning a majority of the vote. In 2018, Republican incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin ended up losing his U.S. House seat to Democratic challenger Jared Golden, because more independent voters broke in Golden’s direction when they ranked the candidates.
Poliquin sued to try to stop ranked-choice from taking his seat away from him and lost. Republicans then gathered signatures to try, yet again, to repeal ranked-choice voting this election. The courts determined the effort did not gather enough signatures, and Maine voters will officially use this system for electing both president and congressional representatives come November (the state’s constitution has specific rules for how state lawmakers are elected and does not permit the use of ranked-choice voting).
Maine has five presidential candidates that will be on the ballot. In addition to Trump and Biden, voters can choose the Libertarian Party, Green Party, and Alliance Party candidates. Voters can also rank Trump or Biden (or both, or neither) and have their votes counted.
The latest polling in Maine suggests that ranked-choice voting might not make much of a difference in the presidential election results there. Several polls have Biden crossing the majority vote threshold even when accounting for the influence of the third-party candidates. Maine, though, is one of only two states that directs some electoral votes based on which candidates win individual congressional districts, so Trump could still feasibly pick up an electoral vote while most go to Biden. In the 2016 election, for example, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in Maine—and thus three of its electoral votes—but Trump also picked up an electoral vote as well since he won the most votes in the state’s 2nd Congressional District.
On the other hand, Republican incumbent Sen. Susan Collins faces a strong challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon and polls don’t currently predict either getting a majority vote. The presence of two independent candidates in the race—Max Patrick Linn, who is running a pro-Trump, anti-immigration campaign, and Lisa Savage, who is running in favor of Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and ending student debt—might also shake things up. Polling from Suffolk University that accounts for ranked-choice voting currently shows Gideon reaping 48 percent of the second-place votes, compared to 19 percent for Collins.
Ranked-choice voting may very well affect Maine’s outcomes this November.