Letter: Why Scarborough rep opposes ranked-choice voting

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I feel it is my duty to share my concerns regarding the legality of the far-reaching ballot proposal for ranked-choice voting.

Since ballot questions are initiated by the public and are rarely reviewed by legislators, I drafted a letter of request seeking a legal opinion from Attorney General Janet Mills, and Senate President Michael Thibodeau joined my effort. Voters deserve information upon which to base votes.

In a detailed six-page letter dated March 4, Mills concluded “L.D. 1557 does raise significant constitutional concerns.” 

I am opposed to Ranked-Choice Voting on a statewide basis because it may violate Article V of the Maine Constitution in two ways, plurality requirement and tabulation of ballot changes; may lead to costly court challenges; would make Maine the only state in the nation to implement RCV; would be costly to implement – an estimated $1.5 million for new equipment; would include federal candidates running for Congress, as well as Maine governor, state Senate, and state House; would involve instant recounts if there are more than two candidates that do not result in a majority; would be time consuming, and may disenfranchise some voters by using the recounted ballots of the loser to determine the winner – in essence, a minority of voters would get to vote more than once.

If you have any questions about any of the ballot questions or other legislative matters, please do not hesitate to contact me.

State Rep. Heather Sirocki

  • John E. Palmer

    Plurality winners may have been the best we could do in the 19th century when the constitution was drafted, but we can do better at this point. Furthermore, a majority is just a “better plurality”–competent legal minds disagree about whether there is a constitutional issue.

    Regarding cost, my understanding is that we are replacing our voting machines anyway, and that the incremental cost of handling RCV is very small–not $1.5 mm.

    Maine should set an example for the nation on a better way to elect our leaders by implementing RCV.

    • Chew H Bird

      There is no need to lower our standards to accept second place losers as winners.

  • blwpyrtv

    It’s notable that Rep. Sirocki makes no acknowledgment of the reasons why so many people are unhappy with the current system of plurality voting.

    Anyway, assuming it’s possible via amendment to reconcile RCV with Maine’s constitution, let’s look at Sirocki’s other objections, that RCV would:

    – “lead to costly court challenges”

    That is a common side effect to any kind of progress.

    – “make Maine the only state in the nation to implement RCV”

    And that’s a problem because . . ?

    – “be costly to implement- an estimated $1.5 million for new equipment”

    Sounds like a great investment to me, when you consider the benefits that RCV brings: truer reflection of the majority opinion (and thus clearer mandates), increased competition, campaign civility, voter empowerment, and outcomes based more on merit than on the luck of split opposition (see: Donald Trump).

    – “include the federal candidates running for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as Maine Governor, Maine Senate, and Maine Representatives to the House”

    All the better!

    – “involve instant recounts if there are more than two candidates that do not result in a majority”

    “Recount” is not quite the right term, as it generally means starting again from scratch. There is, however, a re-tabulation based on the transfer of votes.

    – “be time consuming”

    How does Sirocki figure? She herself describes the re-tabulation scenario as an *instant* runoff.

    – “disenfranchise some voters by using the recounted ballots of the loser to determine the winner – in essence, a minority of voters would get to vote more than once.”

    Yes, it’s true that the criteria for winner/loser changes under RCV. That is indeed the point. A mere plurality is no longer sufficient for a candidate to claim victory, given that he or she might nonetheless be the worst in the eyes of the majority.

    In an election that uses RCV, the final vote tally is equal to the number of voters. That fact belies this recurring fallacy (which hasn’t help up in court, incidentally) that RCV gives some people more votes than others.

    If your first-choice candidate is a finalist in the vote count, is it not logical to assume that you would not benefit from “voting again”? That you want your vote to remain in the same candidate’s column?

    It’s only those voters whose first choice has already been eliminated who have use for the provisional transfer of their vote to a backup choice. It’s the same principle that conventional runoff elections serve.

    As for the claim that voters are “disenfranchised” by allowing their votes to transfer to a backup choice, that’s simply nonsense! If anything, voters in a multi-candidate race will finally be able to support their true favorite without fear of wasting their vote.

    I encourage all Maine citizens to read up on ranked choice voting (a.k.a., instant runoff voting) between now and November and make up their own minds as to whether it’s wrong for their them or not. They should also take a close look at the political interests of those who are defending the status quo.