I found Todd Benoit’s column on the Pat LaMarche campaign (BDN, Sept. 16-17) interesting for its historical background. The fact that Olympia Snowe is now a U.S. senator, courtesy of a three-way race that happened 15 years ago in which she apparently received only a plurality of the vote, points to one of the major structural flaws in our electoral system: We get only one vote.
The Green Party, and others, have long promoted a system that allows voters in races with three candidates or more to list their choices 1, 2, 3 and so on. Called ranked-choice voting, it allows someone to vote for their favorite candidate, but also to indicate their second, third and fourth choices as well. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the second-choice votes of the candidate with the lowest total in the first round are automatically allocated to the remaining candidates.
This process goes on until one candidate receives a majority of votes from a majority of voters. The winner is a consensus choice of all voters. This method would be especially useful in the current governor’s race, where there are four candidates and the winner is likely to be chosen without winning the support of a majority of the vote.
Ranked-choice, or instant-run-off, voting is easily implemented by precincts that use electronic voting machines and not difficult to tabulate in districts that still use paper ballots. Voters will need to be educated on how it works, but the League of Women Voters has an excellent tutorial that makes the method easy to demonstrate and explain. It is a well-tested method that is currently in use by a number of national organizations, and politically, by the Utah Republican Party.
It is good that Maine encourages third parties, since many of the major reforms implemented by the major parties originated with third parties, the most notable being Social Security. Let us hope Maine continues to encourage greater democratic practices.