Perfect Storms – 2 – Election Opportunity Fix

“Those who do not remember the past and fail to learn from it are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana (tweaked by me)

It almost never fails. As soon as my post is up, more interesting information appears; in this case the article that triggered this update was picked up just hours later (and from UK media, no less).

The good news is that this is a hopeful, inspiring case of people who did remember the past and learned from it.

What is described is important, I think, as it potentially fills in a hole in my earlier Make Every Vote Count opportunity (previous post). While the November 8th national elections focused on high-level offices, the state of Maine passed a citizen initiated ballot proposal (Question 5) that changes elections in Maine to a system of ranked-choice voting (RCV).

Maine makes it harder to elect Trump-alikes (IB Times)

Instead of a traditional Plurality “first-past-the-post” system where one candidate is chosen from two or more options (an Either/Or system), voters will now rank all candidates based on personal preference (more And/And). As with the traditional system of “only” votes, if one candidate gets a majority of votes (as “first” or “only” choice), then they are the winner.

If not, it becomes more interesting. In an RCV election, the second choice of voters whose first choice was the last-place candidate move up to become their new first choice vote. Recount. If still no clear winner, repeat by eliminating the next-to-last place candidate. Recount. Repeat until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote.

The city of Portland began using this election process for its mayor in 2011.1

In this manner elections, both primary and general, would be opened up to a broader, more diverse range of candidates. While we had that situation in each of the 2016 primaries, we still had to pick “only” one candidate.

There are positives to this approach. First, if one’s chosen candidate ends up eliminated, one’s second choice vote gets counted. Better for Make My Vote Count.

Second, it discourages the campaigning trend that has been so noticeable for the last 30 years or so – that of negative campaigning against opponents rather than promoting platforms and policies. Rather than the latter zero-sum, negative, scorched earth campaigning, it would encourage candidates to be more civil and stick to the issues as there would be incentive to place second or even third should no one outright take the majority. It might also encourage greater openness to compromise on issues.

Third, it guarantees that the ultimate winner will always be someone who is at least acceptable, however grudgingly, to a majority – and it never yields a winner whom the majority simply cannot abide.

The reason for the Question 5 measure on the ballot was not this year’s election but the 2014 Maine gubernatorial election, where sharp-tongued incivility ran rampant even after the election, with the winner capturing only 37.6% of the votes.

The downside, of course, will be the necessitated changes in voting machines, election, and the subsequent counting process. But even after recounts in 2016, and looking for chad in 2000, surely these are small technical steps to overcome a big (and deprecatingly negative) process we currently have. Another downside involves necessary changes to the Maine Constitution, which currently locks in the Plurality voting process.

Question 5 passed 52% to 48%, with most of the opposition originating with sitting politicians. Go figure.

This is not a shot in the dark. There is ample time and opportunity to follow up on RCV before making wholesale changes in other states and nationally. Consider the opportunity for living experiments: the rest of us sit back and watch (test) Maine’s elections, while Maine keeps an eye on (tests) Portland’s mayoral elections. Maine already has 5 years of mayoral results to work with, so it’s off to a good start. If stuff doesn’t seem kosher, adjust the regulations with the objectives in sight: Make My Vote Count.

Oh, and give me healthy choices while we’re at it.


1 Our View: Ranked-choice voting is right for Maine


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
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