Just past midnight on November 5, 2014, Bangor Daily News announced that Maine’s incumbent governor Paul LePage had been reelected without a majority of the vote. Such an outcome was nothing new for Mainers — in nine of the state’s last eleven gubernatorial contests, the winning candidate won with less than 50% of the vote. In fact, LePage won his first term in 2010 with just under 38%.
The election was a three candidate race: the Republican LePage and Democrat Mike Michaud got 48% and 43% respectively. Independent Eliot Cutler, a former Democrat, received 8% of the vote. But while Cutler finished far behind his opponents in 2014, he was neck-and-neck with LePage in 2010. He’d lost that election by less than two points, while Democratic hopeful Libby Mitchell took 19% of the vote.
Cutler’s decline over four years wasn’t linked with a dramatic shift in policy or some kind of scandal. When I spoke to him in March, he told me it was in part because Democrats changed their line of attack against him the second time around. “Instead of attacking me frontally, which they did in 2010,” he said, “in an effort to discredit my candidacy, they said I was a spoiler. And that was a very smart tactic because there were so many people in Maine who were angry with Paul LePage.” And that’s exactly what they did. Michaud’s campaign manager released a statement declaring that “a vote for Cutler is a vote for LePage,” and Michaud positioned himself on the as the only viable alternative to the controversial Republican.
The rhetoric worked. In late October, Angus King, the state’s Independent U.S. Senator, switched his endorsement from Cutler to Michaud out of concern that Cutler couldn’t win. The switch sent Cutler’s polls crashing down, and it became clear that he would not be the state’s next governor. So, a week before election day in 2014, he sent his supporters a message. “If you don’t think that I can win,” he said, “and you want to vote strategically, do that.”
Cutler’s supporters found themselves in a situation with which many voters in the 2016 presidential election are familiar: they didn’t like the choices the Republican and Democratic Parties offered, but they knew that a vote for anybody else would go to waste.
The Maine League of Women Voters had long wanted to create a system that gave Mainers a real choice. After a Republican member of the Maine legislature introduced an unsuccessful “ranked choice voting” bill in 2007, the group began researching the system as an alternative to the current system. Here’s how it works: rather than making voters choose single candidate, ranked choice voting (RCV, for short) allows them to list their choices for an elected office in order of preference. Then, if no candidate reaches a majority, the votes of the candidate with the lowest vote share are distributed to their voters’ second choices. The process is repeated until a candidate earns more than 50% of the vote. Through this system, voters can cast a ballot for their preferred candidate without fear of “spoiling” the election, as their votes will be redistributed if that candidate fails.
While countries like Ireland and Australia have used RCV for decades, it is extremely rare in the United States, where only a handful of localities use the system. San Francisco was the first to adopt it in 2002 and has since used RCV to elect members of its Board of Supervisors. Between 2006 and 2010, Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro, California and Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota adopted it for local offices as well. But Mainers need to go no farther than Portland, the state’s largest city, to find RCV in action; Portland elected a mayor from a field of 15 nonpartisan candidates in its first election using RCV in 2011.
In 2014, the Maine League of Women Voters and then-State Senator Dick Woodbury launched the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. They drafted a proposal that would change not only the highly fraught gubernatorial elections, but also those for the United States House of Representatives and Senate (though not the Presidency), which would make the state’s 2018 contests the first federal elections to use RCV.
The Libertarian Party and the Green Party, the largest minor parties in the United States, supported the initiative. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s 2016 presidential nominee, even took time during her campaign stops in Maine to urge voters to get behind the referendum. “Ranked choice voting is a solution to this problem,” she said, referring to the “spoiler” effect during a university tour. “And Maine is leading the charge to give voters more choices in our elections.” They hope this change could put a dent in the Republican and Democratic Parties’ near-complete control of the government. And their support would not be in vain; the committee was able to place the issue of RCV on the 2016 ballot and, on November 8, it passed with 52% support. Still, like any legislation, it remained vulnerable to judicial challenges.
In the days following the result, both the Greens’ and Libertarians’ national organizations put out statements applauding the referendum’s success. And they had reason to be optimistic; the system we use now leaves them more likely to take the blame for spoiling an election than to win one. And because voters are afraid to tilt the balance between the Republican and Democratic parties, the two-party system persists even in places where that dichotomy doesn’t represent the ideological makeup of the population. It’s just as easy to imagine a Utah where Republicans and Libertarians compete for majorities as it is to imagine the same of Greens and Democrats in southern California. But as long as Republicans and Democrats can tell voters that a vote for anyone but their candidates is wasted, there is no incentive for voters to even risk supporting minor party candidates.
A change seems necessary now more than ever; according to Gallup, the portion of Americans who identify as political independents has been higher over the past six years than at any point since Gallup began tracking this number in 1988. This drift from the major parties was all the more apparent in 2016, when their respective candidates for president, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, consistently polled as the least popular major party candidates in history. Only 1964 Republican nominee Barry Goldwater, who lost to incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson in a landslide, polled with such consistent unfavorability. And in September 2016, 57% of Americans told Gallup the United States needs some third major party. Yet no candidate since 1968’s George Wallace, a lifelong Democrat who ran as the candidate of the American Independent Party, has won an electoral vote on anything but a Democratic or Republican ticket.
Maine looks like the right place for reform to begin. Of its last six governors, two have been Republicans, two have been Democrats, and two have been independents; it is also currently one of only two states with an independent in the Senate, former Governor Angus King. But what’s most important to minor parties is not where change begins — if this reform is to help them become national players, they’ll need to be able to win in more than one state. Maine needs to be a success that sets an example for others to follow. But it’s unclear whether changing the electoral mechanism alone will be enough make these parties viable.
With a divided legislature in charge of implementing the law, they may never find out. Weeks after the election, the Maine senate passed a resolution requesting that the court an option to review the constitutionality of the law, even though no plaintiff had brought a case against it. This would give the court the power to issue a nonbinding ruling that would serve as a preliminary opinion upon which further challenges to the law, whether in the legislature or the courts, could be based.
Woodbury is confident that the years he’s spent working on it will pay off. I met with him on a snowy Saturday morning this February at a Portland diner, and he told me about his political career and the work he’s done for RCV. An economist with the National Bureau of Economic Research, he first ran for the Maine House of Representatives in 2002 and got a taste of how the current electoral system forces parties to work strategically, sometimes abandoning certain races altogether out of fear of “spoiling” the outcome.
“I filed my papers, and I don’t think it was 24 hours before the Speaker of the House called me,” he said of the 2002 campaign. The speaker, a Democrat, wanted to get a sense of the kind of legislator Woodbury would be if he were to win the traditionally Republican district in Yarmouth. If Woodbury’s politics were to the left of the Republicans’, Democrats had to worry about losing votes to him. A split between Woodbury and a Democrat would likely cost both the race, spoiling an opportunity to knock off a Republican seat. “If they run somebody, [the district] is probably going to continue to be Republican,” Woodbury said. “If they’re able to not run somebody, maybe I’m easier to work with than a Republican.” So after getting a better sense of who Woodbury was, the Democrats chose not to run a candidate. Through a campaign run out of his basement, he was elected to the Maine House of Representatives.
After leaving the House in 2008, Woodbury ran for state Senate in 2010, winning with 44% of the vote in a four-way race. In February 2013, he introduced a bill to implement RCV. Like previous efforts to introduce the law, Woodbury’s bill never made to the floor for a vote. But unlike previous legislators, however, Woodbury didn’t let the idea die with the bill. This defeat led him to start a partnership the following year with the Maine League of Women Voters and then-State Representative Diane Russell, who had introduced two unsuccessful RCV bills in Maine’s lower house. “When my bill didn’t pass within the legislature,” Woodbury said, “we formed this working group to really flesh out what the exact statutory change should look like.”
Kyle Bailey joined the campaign in 2014, becoming the Committee’s Campaign Manager and public voice. Originally involved in politics through his activism on LGBTQ marriage equality campaigns, Bailey had been working on Cutler’s 2014 campaign shortly before he joined the Committee. As election day neared, he saw the spoiler narrative begin to outshine Cutler’s message. “The Democrats said, ‘Don’t waste your vote,’ and the Republicans did to some extent as well,” Bailey recalled. “Don’t waste your vote on Eliot, vote for one of these two, because you either hate Paul LePage or you hate Mike Michaud, the two party candidates, so make sure you stop the one you hate.”
Bailey’s husband, who had served with Woodbury in the legislature, introduced the two. Less than a month before the 2014 election, Bailey got wind of Woodbury’s efforts to pass RCV through a referendum. Seeing an opportunity to do away with the spoiler issue that had muddled the past two gubernatorial races, he started working with the committee right away. But passing the measure without the support of the legislature, as it would turn out, was no simple task.
As an alternative to the traditional legislative process, Maine’s constitution allows citizens to create law through a process called a citizen’s initiative. With the approval of the Maine Secretary of State, Mainers can petition to put a proposal on the ballot as a referendum. If the petitioners collect enough signatures, the public gets to vote on the proposal in the next election. It can then pass with a simple majority.
Petitioners can’t begin collecting signatures until the Secretary of State approves the proposal in an enactable form, meaning Woodbury and the Committee had to submit a comprehensive and legally sound document of a caliber usually seen in the legislature. “You actually had to draft a bill,” Bailey said. And this made Woodbury’s and the Maine League of Women Voters’ work on fleshing out the statutory change all the more important.
Getting the wording right, however, was no simple task. The members of the Committee not only had to make sure the bill would work the way they wanted it to, but because there would be no chance to amend it before its passage, they also had to make sure it could pass legal muster if challenged. With that in mind, they wanted to have it ready by the 2014 election so they could start collecting signatures right away. “That was really important to getting enough signatures and momentum to move [the referendum] forward,” said Bailey.
The Secretary of State’s office certified the initiative’s language roughly a week before the election, leaving Bailey and the Committee little time to put together a volunteer petition drive. By the time the polls closed on November 4, volunteers had collected over 36,000 signatures — a good start, but still short of the 61,123 they would need after the gubernatorial votes had been counted. They spent the next year collecting the rest and submitted the signatures in October 2015. The Secretary of State’s office approved them a month later, and the vote was set for November 8, 2016.
Kris Clark had worked on the campaign with Maine’s branch of electoral reform advocacy group FairVote and spent the months leading up to the referendum knocking on doors. The biggest obstacle to getting voters on board with RCV was the general lack of education about the system. “I had very few people say ‘No, I know all about it. I’m just not interested,’” he told me over a few of the finest local IPAs in his Portland home. Before they truly understood the system, many voters were skeptical. But the opportunity to educate them on its mechanics produced results. “People really responded to the fact that they could vote their conscience,” he said, echoing Cutler’s 2014 statement to his supporters. To voters, RCV represented an opportunity to escape the trap of lesser-evilism and vote for a candidate they genuinely liked.
As politics becomes increasingly polarized, the spoiler effect grows even more potent. The Republican and Democratic parties have drifted further from the center, and voters are now presented with a stark choice at the ballot box. Those anywhere to the right of center are less willing to chance a Democratic victory, and even somewhat centrist liberals are horrified at mainstream Republican positions. Voting Green or Libertarian to make a statement comes with greater baggage and even social stigma when the difference between more viable candidates seems growingly catastrophic.
Even as they feel less inclined to identify with either party, voters’ behavior has become more consistent; it would turn out that the 2016 election was the first in history in which every Senator elected was of the same party whose candidate won their state’s Electoral College votes. And as polarization increases, the number of issues without partisan ties seems to be shrinking — FiveThirtyEight found that opinions on issues as historically nonpartisan as the electoral college are increasingly tied to one’s political party.
But Bailey and Woodbury view RCV as an issue that should be safe from partisan divides, and their campaign embraced bipartisanship. After coalition meetings, Bailey recalls, a Democratic State Senator would say, “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a coalition where I sat across the room from an equal number of former Republican State Senators.” But the timing of the initiative made some supporters of governor LePage wary. “People’s memory of past elections is not nearly as strong as for recent elections,” he explained. “We had a Republican governor who got less than a majority both times, and we were pushing the initiative at that time.” LePage’s supporters knew RCV would have made it harder for him to win in 2010 and 2014, and to them, the effort to implement it looked like a partisan response to his victories.
It wasn’t too long ago, however, that Republicans were on the other side of the electoral outcome. “The whole reason we’re here, having this debate,” he says, “ is that in 2007, a group of Republican lawmakers introduced ranked choice voting in the Maine legislature.” And it was this bill, a direct response to Democrat John Baldacci’s gubernatorial victory with 38% of the vote in 2006, that began the process of putting RCV on the ballot. The Republican bill was responsible for sparking the Maine League of Women Voters’ interest in RCV, leading to their work on creating what would become the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting.
Despite what Bailey, Woodbury, and the other members of the Committee say about the law’s bipartisanship, however, the recent gubernatorial elections certainly weighed in the minds of voters. According to Kris Clark, many asked from their doorframes, “Would this have changed our governor’s election? Would we have had a different governor?” And he told them, “Yes, we would. LePage would not have gotten elected in 2010.”
Putting partisanship aside, the Committee’s message was simple: Mainers need more choices. And, most importantly, they should be able to make those choices based on issues, not parties. Bailey says the problems with the current voting system made it impossible to focus on candidates’ views. “The spoiler, vote splitting, [and] the need for strategic voting,” he says, dominated the 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial races. “The issues weren’t even in discussion.”
Rather than playing off of partisanship and hypothetical reimaginations of past elections, Bailey and the rest of the Committee kept the campaign’s focus on explaining RCV. Confident that voters would love the idea once they understood it, they needed to bring the concept to voters in a relatable way. And what’s more relatable than beer? “We did over 30 ranked choice beer elections at craft breweries around the state,” Bailey told me. “We had up to 100 people at some of these breweries come and get a flight, sample the beers, and then rank them, and walk them through how a ranked choice election works.”
The brewery events were a good way for the Committee to get its message to voters face-to-face, but it also had to rely on more traditional means of campaigning like TV ads. Some of the ads (which are still available on the Committee’s YouTube page) maintained the campaign’s educational focus, showing voters what the new ballots would look like and walking them through the vote-counting process. Others featured testimonials from regular Mainers who supported the bill. But the educational and testimonial ads shared a clear message: “No more voting for the lesser of two evils.”
This was the message that got minor parties on board, and the Maine Green Independent Party in particular ran with it. This comes as no surprise: the Green Independents are the state affiliate of the national Green Party, whose platform explicitly calls for RCV (though under the alternate name “instant-runoff voting”). And the Greens’ platform makes its case in almost exactly the same language: “IRV frees voters from being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.”
When I spoke to Gil Harris, co-chair of the Maine Green Independent Party, he told me the party’s leadership was unanimous in its support of the referendum. With a united stance, the Green Independents did their part to make sure the referendum would cross the 50% threshold in November. “Many of us jumped in and joined with the other groups who were trying to get signatures and educate the public,” he said, noting that the party used its own website and social media to participate in the educational campaign the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting was leading.
Green Independents were not the only minor party whose members got on board — Bailey recalled that many of Maine’s Libertarians were involved in the process as well. But unlike the Green Independents, the Libertarian Party of Maine wasn’t completely united on the issue. Chris Lyons, the state affiliate’s chairman, told me at Portland’s Yordprom Coffee Co. that his organization’s leadership had been divided on the issue during the campaign. “We were split at the executive committee level about the potential impact of RCV voting and if it would be of benefit to us,” he said. “Another question that came was of the constitutionality of [the system].”
This question about the initiative’s constitutionality loomed over the referendum. As with any change to the political status quo, RCV had opponents, and they feared the law violated a section of the constitution declaring that a plurality is required to win state elections. Governor LePage was blunt in his criticism, saying in a May 2016 radio address that the state is “not ready to ignore its constitution and allow ranked-choice voting. Officials who get a plurality of votes win the election. It’s that simple.”
Kyle Bailey attributes some of the pushback to the fact that the new system would force politicians to abandon long-held strategies. “Whenever you change the system, people have to change their strategy, and there are unknowns,” he said. It might discourage candidates from running negative campaigns, as they might need some of those opponents’ voters to support them as a second or third choice. Taking on the persona of a political operative, Bailey explains, “I know what it means to write a campaign plan to get to 40% in a four-person race. What does it mean to get to 50% plus one in a race with four candidates where my candidate has to reach out for second choice rankings?”
Opposition came from both sides of the aisle. Republican State Representative Heather Sirocki decried the “blatantly unconstitutional” measure in The Maine Wire. She worried the measure would violate the one-person-one-vote principle: “Some voters, the voters of the loser(s), would get to vote more than once.” She cited Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, who never publicly opposed the law but warned in an official legal opinion that it “does raise significant constitutional concerns.” Sirocki warned that these concerns would lead to costly court battles, adding to the already expensive implementation of the law.
It was on the issue of cost that Democratic State Senator Bill Diamond joined with Sirocki, telling The Portland Press Herald, “There is going to have to be a lot of high technology brought to these various places and in some cases it is going to be very expensive – we still have some towns that still use just paper ballots.” The Committee, however, regarded electronic voting machines as a separate issue, assuring voters there was no reason RCV couldn’t use paper ballots.
Fear arose that the reform would making politics even less accessible by complicating the process. The editorial board of Bangor Daily News recommended voters stay away from the initiative. “We fear voting and vote counting will become confusing, less transparent and burdensome, further eroding voter turnout and faith in our election systems and government,” it argued.
But these concerns weren’t enough to stop the referendum. Kyle Bailey spent election night at South Portland’s Foulmouth Brewing, glued to the TV. And though the early results were promising, he wasn’t ready to declare victory — and then his phone rang. “I got a call from the Bangor Daily News saying they were ready to call it for us.” And after spending two years working towards this moment, he was proud of how far they had come. He recalled the doubt other political operatives had tried to instill in the early days of the campaign, telling him, “I admire what you’re trying to do, […] but I don’t think you’ll get the signatures to even get this on the ballot. And if you do, I don’t think you’ll win.” But with more than 388,000 votes, just over 52% of the total, they had.
In January, as the rest of the country was reeling from the surprise victory of Donald Trump, legislators got back to work. Early in the month, the president of Maine’s Senate announced his intent to hold a vote requesting that the state’s Supreme Court analyze the law’s constitutionality. And on February 2, the Senate voted 24-10 to issue that request. Lawmakers suggested they want to test the constitutionality of the law before it is used in an election, avoiding the chaos of contested results. But some believe there are more sinister motives at play.
“You’ve got these two Democratic apparatchicks as Attorney General and Secretary of State who want to delay, if not stop, [the law].” Eliot Cutler told me. Why? “Because one of them wants to be governor.” He was referring to Janet Mills and Matthew Dunlap, the former often placing herself in an adversarial position with LePage and attracting speculation about a 2018 run. While Mills’ concerns have been primarily of the law’s constitutionality, Dunlap, whose responsibilities include administering and overseeing elections, speculated as early as November that setting the system up by 2018 may not be possible. But Drew Penrose, FairVote’s Legal Director, believes, this concern is unfounded.
He points to a 2010 North Carolina judicial election in which the executive director of the North Carolina board of elections managed to hold a ranked-choice election with 86 days’ notice. “Ultimately,” Penrose said, “he showed that if you’re willing to think about it and put the time and effort into it, you can really make it happen.” But as Cutler sees it, the time and effort is unlikely to be there. “You’ve got the Attorney General of the state of Maine, who desperately wants to become governor and could not become governor under ranked choice voting,” he said, “who is doing everything in her power to stop it. And Matt Dunlap is just another party apparatchik.” Still, Mills insists that her concerns come from her duty to uphold Maine’s constitution, telling The Forecaster, “[t]he ranked choice statute violates the plain meaning of the relevant Constitutional provisions and ignores their history.”
Woodbury and Bailey argue that, while RCV does change the way votes are counted, the candidate with the most votes at the end of this process — and thereby the winner of a plurality — still wins the election. “It’s not the intent of the constitution to say how you take somebody’s vote and do the tabulation,” Woodbury explained. “Ranked choice voting puts into law an approach to doing the tabulation that leads to a plurality winner.” Penrose also points to the history of the plurality requirement, explaining that it was designed to prevent failed elections, which would never occur under ranked choice voting. Similarly, he dismisses concerns about the constitution’s “sort, count, and declare” provision, as RCV still allows municipalities to tally votes and report them to the Secretary of State.
Regardless, the provisions in question only apply to general elections for the relevant state offices: governor, state House, and state Senate. “Our initiative applies to ten different elections,” says Kyle Bailey. “For only three of them are there questions of constitutionality.” Nobody has questioned the use of RCV for the offices of United States Senator and Representative nor for party primaries for any of the five offices, so the legislature will have to implement it to some extent no matter how the court rules. Even for the remaining three races, the fact that the Senate called the law into question rather than a plaintiff means the Court can only issue a non-binding advisory opinion. Each justice issues an opinion of the law’s validity and an explanation of it, and these guide lower courts or legislative fixes should an issue arise.
By March 3 the parties had submitted briefs to the Court, and these documents drew a clear line in the sand. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting submitted a brief defending its initiative, joined by briefs from groups including the Maine League of Women Voters, FairVote, and even eight Democrats in the State Senate. Mills and Dunlap each filed briefs in opposition, joined by the majority opinion of the state Senate (which is under Republican control) and the Republican caucus of the state House.
These divisions lay bare during oral arguments on April 13. Attorney Jamie Kilbreth, arguing on RCV’s behalf, maintained that there’s no reason for the court to examine the law in the first place. He told the court it was overstepping its constitutional duty by guiding the legislature. The Portland Press Herald quoted him saying it was a “tail-wagging-the-dog kind of problem,” to which Chief Justice Leigh Saufley quipped, “Mr. Kilbreth, it’s a fairly large tail.” Josh Dunlap, arguing on behalf of the House Republican Caucus, addressed the same constitutional concerns as Mills and Sirocki. And while several justices mulled over the possible consequences of the law, it became clear that they consider this an issue of pressing concern. The likelihood that the Court will dismiss the case, as Woodbury and Bailey had hoped, seems to be waning.
Justices will likely issue their advisory opinions before the legislature adjourns on June 21, and these will guide legislators in how they proceed with the law. But regardless of how the court advises, the road to RCV’s implementation is riddled with obstacles. Should the Court declare the law unconstitutional, its only path forward for state offices would be a constitutional amendment, which only the legislature can pass. But even if the court rules in RCV’s favor, it will be up to the legislature to make sure the system is in place by 2018. And with Dunlap already questioning its feasibility and the upper chamber of the legislature opposing it outright, it doesn’t look like they’ll be in a hurry to get it through.
The Committee is prepared to advocate for RCV no matter what challenges it faces. According to Bailey, the Maine constitution gives the people the ultimate authority to write the state’s laws. “They did,” he said, “and now the politicians in Augusta don’t like that and are trying to undermine that.” Even in the event that the law moves forward without issue, Bailey and his colleagues have their work cut out. “There’s work to do around educating voters,” he said. “With any change, people have questions, and we want to make sure people feel comfortable voting in elections.”
Gil Harris says the Maine Green Independent Party is ready to fight for the law: it had already urged its supporters to call their state Senators to vote against the request for judicial review of the law in January. But how much would a statewide ranked choice voting law benefit Greens? Penrose, who’s been advocating for RCV since he was an undergrad in Tucson, is cautiously optimistic. “I don’t want to say that ranked choice voting will do a lot in terms of getting [minor parties] actually elected to office on its own,” he said. “but what it will do is take away what has been an enduring frustration for people who want to operate outside the two-party system, and that is this accusation that they are spoilers.”
Penrose notes that not all politics is about winning elections. “If a candidate is not attracting a lot of first-choice support,” he said, “you know that they are going to be eliminated, and that means that their second choices are going to be important.” When leading candidates see minor party candidates polling with substantial support, even if it looks like they won’t win, there’s an incentive for them to adopt those candidates’ messages to attract their voters. Even if minor parties don’t win elections (which they very well could), they can influence the positions and the rhetoric of those who do. “It’s not as if the party label next to somebody’s name is the most important thing in the world,” he explained. “The important thing is, ‘What are they going to vote for once they’re elected? What are the policies they’re going to support? Who are they going to represent?’ And ranked choice voting does a better job of electing people who will actually represent people from those alternative viewpoints.” With RCV, the ideas of voters outside the Democratic and Republican mainstream are more likely to have a voice.
But the national Green and Libertarian organizations that supported the referendum didn’t back it for the sake of Maine alone. Their supporters are located all over the country, and Maine’s four federal legislators aren’t enough to meaningfully influence policy on their own. But RCV’s supporters are confident that the political climate is perfect for change. “We had an example of a national election where the two major party nominees were widely disliked,” Dick Woodbury said. “Lots of states are recognizing that there might be issues with the way we’re applying our election system. I think other places are watching.”
As was the case with Maine before the campaign, several states have RCV bills in some form waiting for legislative action. According to FairVote’s 2016 count, the legislatures of Indiana, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Arizona are sitting on bills that would create statewide RCV for at least some offices, while eight other state legislatures have bills that would apply to local elections. But as with early attempts to pass RCV legislatively in Maine, many of these attempts have stalled because of legislators’ hesitance. With Maine on the road to implementing the law, these legislators — and more importantly, voters — will have the chance to see if the system really works. Maine’s motto is “Dirigo,” Latin for “I lead.” It’s up to the rest of us to decide whether we follow.