Maine Is First State to Consider Ranked-Choice Voting

The change would prevent candidates winning political office with less than 50 percent support.

The Pemaquid Point Light, an historic lighthouse in Bristol, Maine, October 12, 2011
The Pemaquid Point Light, an historic lighthouse in Bristol, Maine, October 12, 2011 (Howard Ignatius)

A couple of months ago, I wrote here that the United States should consider switching to an instant-runoff voting system. It would break the Democratic-Republican duopoly and perhaps help rehabilitate the compromises and horse trading that make politics work.

A few cities, including Minneapolis and San Francisco, already use such a system in their local elections.

Now a state is pioneering reform.

Ballot measure

On election day next month, voters in Maine will be asked to approve ranked-choice voting.

If the ballot measure (similar to a referendum) passes, voters in America’s northernmost state would in the future rank-order candidates for political office rather than pick one. If no candidate is the first choice of a majority of voters, his or her least-popular opponent would be eliminated and their second-choice votes counted instead. And so forth until one candidate has more than 50 percent of the votes.

That could mean everybody’s second choice wins in the end, but that’s surely better than having the last choice of a majority of voters prevail?

Three-way split

That happened in the Republican presidential primaries this year. Donald Trump never got above 50 percent support but won because the opposition against him was divided.

Maine has experienced something similar. In its two most recent gubernatorial elections, the Republican, Paul LePage — a populist and nationalist in the Trump mold — eked out victories with 37.6 and 48.2 percent support, respectively, because the rest of the electorate split its votes between the Democrat and independent Eliot Cutler.

If Maine had had ranked-choice voting in 2010 and 2014, LePage — who is one of the least popular governors in the country with a 38-percent approval rating — would never have won.


  1. You are incorrect that IRV (instant runoff voting) would “break the Democratic-Republican duopoly”;
    Australia has elected its lower house with IRV for nearly 100 years and has much stronger 3rd parties than USA, but still the net result has been that during all regular elections 1950-2015, only a single person
    from a 3rd party ever won an IRV house seat. So IRV still yields duopoly.
    “Range voting” is a simpler and better voting method more likely to escape duopoly. Australians in 3 nationwide phone polls (1974, 1984 2010) said by landslide they’d like to get rid of IRV, and San Francisco, the longest-IRV-using US city, also was found in followup polls to want to get rid of IRV, in hindsight its citizens regard their enactment decision as a mistake,
    Also, your claim that IRV yields winners “with majority support”
    is misleading, see this counterexample worked-thru IRV election:
    Another simple worked-thru IRV election which is a good counterexample to many commonly-claimed myths
    about IRV, is