Maine first to approve ranked-choice voting for presidential general election
Mainers will be the first voters in the country to use ranked-choice voting in a presidential general election, after Gov. Janet Mills announced she would accept legislation allowing the new system.
Mills, a Democrat, announced Friday that she would permit a bill passed during a special legislative session in August to become law without her signature. But she said it would not take effect until after the 2020 Democratic primary.
By delaying the law's start date, Mills said she was hoping the Maine legislature would appropriate additional funds and take whatever other steps are needed for its implementation. One outlet reported the cost would be about $100,000.
"My experience with ranked-choice voting is that it gives voters a greater voice and it encourages civility among campaigns and candidates at a time when such civility is sorely needed," Mills said in a statement. "At the same time, there are serious questions about the cost and logistics of ranked-choice voting, including collecting and transporting ballots from more than 400 towns in the middle of winter."
Under ranked-choice voting, citizens place their choices in order of preference. If no candidate wins outright with a majority of No. 1 ballots, the candidate with the lowest number of top-choice is eliminated and his or her votes are allocated based on the second choices of those voters. The process continues until a candidate has a majority.
Supporters say the system provides a better reflection of voters' desires and tamps down negative campaigning because candidates may not be a voter's top choice but could be their second or third. Opponents say it's confusing and subject to abuse.
Ranked-choice voting could have had an impact in the 2016 presidential race in Maine because Democrat Hillary Clinton received 48 percent of the vote compared to Republican Donald Trump's 45 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson received 5 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein earned 2 percent. Because no one received a majority, at least Stein's supporters would have had their votes redistributed.
Maine became the first to pass statewide ranked-choice voting in 2016, and its application resulted in Democrat Jared Golden ousting GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin when minor-party candidates' second choice votes were redistributed.
Ranked-choice voting is now available in more than a dozen cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis. A campaign to bring it to Florida, or at least Jacksonville, is getting underway soon.
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A top issue on the democracy reform agenda — protecting elections against both disinformation and cyber hacking — is getting some unusual attention this week in the Democratic presidential campaign.
Amy Klobuchar, arguably at the top of the second tier of candidates given her rising support in Iowa, went to Atlanta on Monday to highlight her efforts in the Senate to enhance election security and to unveil some additional proposals.
The choice of location made sense for two reasons. She and nine other Democrats will meet in the city Wednesday night for their latest in a series of debates where the governing system's problems have so far received short shrift. And Georgia has emerged as the most prominent state where bolstering voting rights and election integrity have become a top priority of the Democratic establishment.
The latest effort to ease restrictions on voting through litigation is a challenge to Mississippi's requirement that naturalized citizens show proof of their citizenship when they register.
The lawsuit, filed Monday by the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, says the law is unconstitutional because it violates of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause by treating one category of citizens differently from another. People born in the United States need only check a box on the state's registration form attesting they are citizens.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which helped bring the suit, says Mississippi is the only state with a unique mandate for would-be voters who were not born American citizens.