Making Democracy Work

Ranked Choice Voting

What's Happening Right Now

Maine's Supreme Judicial Court weighs in on Ranked Choice Voting.

In a unanimous opinion issued on Tuesday, May 23, the Maine court granted the State Senate's request for a solemn occasion and went on to rule on the merits, indicating their view that Ranked Choice Voting is inconsistent with the Maine state constitution. You can read the opinion here. The opinion applies only to state races (governor, state senate, and state house of representatives). Races for federal office are not affected.

The Maine legislature will now consider how to reconcile the law with the constitution or amend the constitution to enable the law.

Our View

The legislature has the opportunity - and the responsibility - to reconcile the law with the constitution.

The Supreme Court opinion is only a partial, temporary setback. Our public officials could and should address the issues identified by the Court by changing the statute to preserve RCV for federal races.

At the same time, we continue to support a constitutional amendment to validate what the voters demanded at the ballot box for state races.

But while the amendment is under consideration, the legislature has the power and obligation to protect those parts of the law that are unrelated to the Court's advisory opinion. We urge them to do so.

On Friday, June 2, the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee held public hearings on

Find contact information for you leglislators here.

League of Women Voter of Maine Urges Legislature to Honor Will of Voters Regarding Ranked Choice Voting, LWVME Press Release, May 25, 2017.

Augusta must honor the will of Maine voters and ensure full implementation of the law, LWVME issues joint press release, May 23, 2017.

Key Points to Consider

Cost: In his public testimony to the Appropriations Committee, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said that he didn't need an appropriation in the budget right now, that his office had enough money to begin the planning. In any case, costs are not likely to exceed what voters approved at the ballot last year and may be substantially less.

Timing: We don't need a delay. We can do this for 2018 if we stop arguing about "whether" and start talking about "how." It's not too hard, it's not too confusing, and it's not unusual for RCV elections to be conducted at the same time and on the same ballot with other elections. Here's what that might look like.

Let's get to work. We respect the regular order and stand behind due process, which should include public discussion and rule-making about how best to move forward once the legal and statutory issues are resolved. Working together, we can do this!

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.

Why is RCV Considered as an Alternative to our Current System?

Our current voting system, 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 like‐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.

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 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.

Additional Information

Ranked Choice Voting in the News

High court hints it will have to rule on Maine ranked-choice vote legality,Bangor Daily News, April 13, 2017.

Maine's highest court hears ranked-choice voting arguments, AP story in U,S. News & World Report, April 13, 2017.

Maine AG, Republicans tell high court they believe ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional, League says otherwise, Bangor Daily News, March 3, 2017.

Briefs Filed in Ranked-Choice Voting Constitutional Challenge, Maine Public reports, March 3, 2017.

Maine Adopts Ranked-Choice Voting. What Is It, and How Will It Work? in the New York Times, December 3, 2016.

Read the joint media release.

Maine starts planning ranked choice voting systems, League president Jill Ward quoted in AP article, November 11, 2016

Should we vote for candidates in order of preference? Newsweek article, October 30, 2016.

For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils, yes! magazine article, October 13, 2016.

How ranked-choice voting could make voters more open to third-party candidates, PBS Newshour, September 2, 2016.

Are 'Instant Runoffs' a Better Way to Vote?, Stateline from the Pew Charitable Trusts, September 2, 2016.

How Paul LePage got elected, and how Mainers think they can fix a broken voting system, Boston.com September 1, 2016.

Group promotes voting change for Maine with ranked-choice beer tastings,, Portland Press Herald, August 24, 2016.

Support ranked-choice voting,, Sarah Palmer's LTE in the BDN, August 5, 2016.

Better way to vote, Gina Coppens's LTE in the BDN, August 2, 2016.

YES on Question 5: Ranked Choice Voting!, Ned White blog post in the BDN, July 23, 2016.

Correcting record about ranked choice voting, Ann Luther's op-ed in the Journal Tribune, June 28, 2016.

Maine Voices: Ranked-choice voting passes every test of true democracy, LWVME President Jill Ward's op-ed in the Portland Press Herald, June 11, 2016.

As a Republican, this is why I support ranked-choice voting, BDN op-ed June 8, 2016.

Maine attorney general says ranked-choice voting may require amending constitution, Portland Press Herald, March 5, 2016.

Maine officials, legislators question legality of ranked-choice voting, Portland Press Herald, January 20, 2015.

Maine election officials certify ranked-choice voting proposal for 2016 ballot, Portland Press Herald, November 18, 2015.

More than 70,000 Maine voters want ranked choice voting on November 2016 ballot, press release from the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, October 19, 2015.

Our View: Group looks to 2016 for ranked-choice vote, editorial in the Portland Press Herald, January 31, 2015.

No more spoilers, a focus on the issues: 6 reasons it's time for ranked choice voting in Maine, Dick Woodbury's op. ed. in the Bangor Daily News, January 27, 2015.

Maine ranked-choice voting advocates gather signatures, Portland Press Herald, January 3, 2015.

Group collecting signatures for ranked choice voting, WGME, January 3, 2015.

Mainers seek ranked-choice voting petition signatures, Seacoast Online January 1, 2015.

Campaign for ranked-choice voting measure needs about 15,000 signatures, Portland Sun, December 12, 2014.

Ranked Choice, The Times Record endorses RCV, November 16, 2014.

Ranked-choice voting advocates gathered 36,000 signatures on Election Day, story in the Portland Press Herald, November 12, 2014.

Portland Press Herald endorses RCV petition, October 31, 2014.

Advocates of RCV launch petition drive in Maine, story in the Bangor Daily News, October 27, 2014.

Moot Court on Ranked Choice Voting in Maine

Some people, including members of the League of Women Voters, would like to see ranked choice voting used in Maine's statewide elections. However, even some proponents worry that there may be an obstacle: the Maine Constitution stipulates that the governor and legislature be elected by "a plurality of all votes."

Would ranked choice voting be constitutional in Maine?

In February, 2014, The League of Women Voters of Maine convened a Moot Court to explore the constitutionality of ranked choice voting in Maine. We invited members of Maine's legal and public-policy community to hear the arguments, weigh in, and discuss the issues with the advocates and the panel.

We were extremely pleased to have a distinguished panel for this event:

  • Catherine R. Connors of Pierce Atwood
  • James T. Kilbreth of Dummond Woodsum
  • Hon. Daniel E. Wathen of Pierce Atwood

The advocates for and against the question were Timothy Shannon of Verrill Dana and John Brautigam of John Brautigam Esq. LLC. Our moderator was H. Cabanne Howard. Here is Tim's Brief for the Appellee. And here is John's Brief for the Appellant.

Both sides were very well represented. Audience members were polled prior to the arguments and then again after the arguments. These polls revealed no strong consensus among the attendees. After the arguments, the number of undecided votes was greatly reduced, but opinion was still split equally between the Yes and No groups.

The illustrious panel reached a unanimous conclusion that Ranked Choice Voting would not be constitutional in Maine.

You can listen to an audio recording of the Moot Court event here.

Although the moot court panel found as they did, lawyers in and out of Maine continue to be divided on the question. Judge Wathen, for one, was interviewed later, and said, "The case is one on which reasonable minds can and do differ." He conceded that the arguments in favor of RCV constitutionality were persuasive and that the case might be winnable.

In addition, almost two years later, panelist Jamie Kilbreth issued a memo indicating that he had concluded RCV would be constitutional. Here's that memo. You can read more arguments by proponents at rcvmaine.com.

In March, 2016, Maine's Attorney General issued a letter in response to a legislative inquiry indicating that she felt RCV raised significant constitutional issues.

In January, 2016, the League issued this statement regarding the constitutionality of RCV in Maine.