AUGUSTA – The instant runoff voting method, used in Australia, Ireland and some U.S. and British cities, is gaining support among election reform advocates in Maine.
Backers of legislation to adopt the system say it would eliminate the “spoiler effect” that occurs when an independent or third-party candidate prevents anyone from getting a majority of the vote.
Under the proposed system, voters would be able to rank candidates according to their preference.
When no candidate gets a majority, the one with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and the second-choice votes designated by that candidate’s supporters are then distributed among those still in the running.
The process continues until one candidate receives a clear majority.
Each of Maine’s last five governors – John Baldacci, Angus King, John McKernan, Joseph Brennan and James Longley – has won at least one election by less than a majority vote. King won with 36 percent of the vote in 1994 in a four-way race.
Baldacci last November failed to win a majority vote in a three-way race with Republican Peter Cianchette and Green Independent Party candidate Jonathan Carter.
Instant runoff voting would create election results that “truly reflect the will of the people,” said Rep. Thomas Bull, D-Freeport, the bill’s sponsor.
Among the co-sponsors are two top Democratic leaders, House Majority Leader John Richardson of Brunswick and Senate President Beverly Daggett of Augusta.
Opponents include the Maine Municipal Association and the Maine Town and City Clerks Association, which say the proposal would confuse voters and cause problems for vote counters.
“The process being presented to you is easier said than done,” said MMA lobbyist Kate Dufour at a public hearing Tuesday before the Committee on Legal and Veterans Affairs.
The Vermont Legislature, which has been studying the issue for several years, is poised to enact the method this year. Vermont Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz, an advocate for the new system, believes it will reduce negative campaigning because candidates will reach out to supporters of other candidates in search of second preferences.
Arn Pearson, executive director of the Maine Citizen Leadership Fund, agrees. “It takes away the whole incentive to tear the other guy down,” he said.