Making Democracy Work

Ranked Choice Voting

How Does Ranked Choice Voting Work?

Ranked choice voting lets voters rank their choices based on individual preference. First choices are counted, and if no candidate has a majority of the vote, an "instant runoff" occurs in which the candidate with the least support is eliminated. Voters that picked the eliminated candidate as their first choice have their vote counted for their next choice. In a three-person race, we now have a winner with majority support in the final round of tabulation. In a race with more than three candidates, this process is repeated until one candidate has a majority. Read more about it in RCV Basics.

Ranked Choice Voting Sample Ballot for Maine

Watch this cool video that shows how RCV works.

RCV in Maine

Currently, Maine uses ranked choice voting for both the primary and general elections for our federal delegation, but ranked choice voting is only used in the primary elections for state races. Local elections do not use ranked choice voting except in Portland.

Ranked choice voting was first put on Maine’s ballot as Question 5 in the 2016 November election after proponents collected more than 70,000 signatures from across the state. Question 5 passed with 52% of the vote. However, while ranked choice voting was originally intended to apply to all state and federal elections with three or more candidates, an advisory opinion by the Maine Supreme Court in 2017 concluded that RCV conflicted with the plurality language in theMaine State Constitution, which prevented the use of ranked choice voting for legislative and gubernatorial general elections. The Maine Legislature was unable to find a solution to this problem, so legislators passed a bill delaying ranked choice voting until 2021. This bill also promised to eliminate ranked choice voting if it was not made constitutional by this time. 

Supporters of electoral reform collected signatures to place a people’s veto on the ballot in the summer of 2018 to repeal the delaying bill. If passed, it would require ranked choice voting to be maintained. Because placing the people’s veto on the ballot postponed implementation of the delaying law, Maine voters were given the opportunity to vote on whether to preserve ranked choice voting while also using ranked choice voting for several primary races. This people’s veto, called Question 1, was approved by an even greater majority than the original question in 2016.

The Maine Legislature passed a bill in 2019 expanding ranked choice voting to the presidential race, including both the primary and general elections. Because Maine assigns its electoral college votes by congressional district, ranked choice voting may be applied to determine the winner in each congressional district as well as for the state as a whole. Ranked choice voting is expected to be applied to this fall’s presidential election, but a people’s veto campaign is gathering signatures for the November ballot and, if successful, that would temporarily postpone the implementation of this law.

The 2018 race for U.S. Congress in District 2 went through an RCV count. Here's official information from the Secretary of State. Ranked choice voting was also used in the Democratic primary elections for governor and the 2nd Congressional District representative. Tabulation for these and other races can be found on the Secretary of State’s website.

Find more information about ranked choice voting from the Maine Secretary of State

Read more about the legislative and legal history.

Why does the League support RCV?

First-past-the-post, or plurality voting, works well when there are only two candidates because one of them is guaranteed to win with majority support. But three- and four-way races among competitive candidates are common in Maine and can lead to results where the winner fails to receive a majority of the votes cast (50% + 1). Dating back to 1974, the winner has failed to receive a majority vote in 9 of the last 11 gubernatorial elections in Maine. In 5 of those races, the elections were won with less than 40 percent support. Given the frequency with which this was happening in Maine elections, the League of Women Voters of Maine convened a study in 2008 to consider alternative voting systems. That study concluded in 2011 with an endorsement of ranked choice voting as the best way to ensure a majority vote in competitive, single-seat, multi-candidate elections.

What are the Benefits of Ranked Choice Voting?

  • Gives voters more meaningful choices: Ranked choice voting allows candidates from outside the two major parties to compete. It helps create a richer dialogue on the issues and increases the diversity of views available for voters to consider.
  • Eliminates spoilers and strategic voting: Ranked choice voting allows voters to support their favorite candidate without worrying that they might "throw their vote away," or worse, split their votes with likeā€minded voters and unintentionally help elect the candidate they like the least.
  • Reduces negative campaigning: Candidates running in ranked choice elections must ask for second and, sometimes, third choice rankings. Voters are less likely to rank a candidate highly who is negative toward their preferred candidate.
  • Reduces the influence of money in politics: Campaigns and special interest groups spend a lot of money on negative advertising. By making negative advertising less effective, ranked choice voting reduces the need for, and influence of, money in politics.

Understanding Myths About RCV

Myth: Ranked choice voting does not support the principle of ‘one person, one vote.’ 
Reality: Voters only have one vote count in the results. While their vote may switch from one candidate to another between rounds, no voter is given more influence than any other in determining the final winner. 

Myth: Ranked choice voting is a partisan effort to determine who wins elections. 
Reality: Ranked choice voting is supported by people of diverse political beliefs. Places as politically diverse as New York and Utah have expanded the use of ranked choice voting outside of Maine. 

Myth: Ranked choice voting is too confusing for voters. 
Reality: Nearly ¾ Mainers in 2018 found ranked choice voting easy to use. This will only improve as voters get used to the current voting method. 

Myth: Ranked choice voting is too expensive. 
Reality: Ranked choice voting is much cheaper than holding multiple elections to determine a majority winner. Additionally, even cities that switch from plurality voting to ranked choice voting have no statistically significant increase in costs. 

Myth: Ranked choice voting is primarily being pushed by out-of-state interests. 
Reality: The campaign for ranked choice voting was a home-grown, grassroots campaign involving Maine leadership and hundreds of volunteers from Maine. Maine people circulated and signed petitions. Maine people voted twice for RCV on the ballot. Maine people donated to the campaign. We were pleased and proud to have the financial support of allies from around the country.

Where is RCV being Used?

  • More than 50 colleges and universities use ranked choice voting for some or all of their student government elections.
  • 11 cities across the United States currently use ranked choice voting to elect city officers, including Portland, Maine. Also San Francisco, Cambridge, and Minneapolis.
  • 5 states provide military and overseas voters with ranked choice ballots to participate in federal runoff elections.
  • 4 countries, including Australia, Ireland, Malta, and New Zealand, use ranked choice voting in federal elections.
  • Numerous public and private sector organizations, including the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science, use ranked choice voting for their elections.

Read more about who uses RCV.

Next Steps

Find more information about our efforts to expand RCV in Maine at our Take Action page.

Read Our Legislative Testimony on This and Other Priority Issues

Additional Information