Ranked-choice voting: Now you don't have to choose just one.

Author:Underhill, Wendy

With the passage of a citizen initiative last fall, Maine became the first state to approve the use of ranked-choice voting for state elections. Then, in May, it became the first state to have ranked-choice voting ruled unconstitutional. Although the state Supreme Court issued a non-binding advisory opinion, it still casts serious doubt on the measure's future.

In Maine, the governor has been elected with less than 50 percent of the vote in nine of the last 11 elections. In five of them, the governor won with less than 40 percent. Some prefer ranked-choice voting to the current winner-take-all system because the winner will have a majority of the vote--at least 50 percent plus one.

Instead of choosing just one candidate from a list, voters rank all candidates for a given office according to their preference, from first choice to last. Ranking the candidates is the easy part; counting the votes is more complicated.

Here's how it works.

  1. Each voter's No. 1 preference is counted.

  2. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the one with the least votes is eliminated and the ballots are re-counted.

  3. If a voter's No. I choice was the eliminated candidate, the voter's second choice receives his or her vote.

  4. The process is repeated until one candidate tops 50 percent.


Supporters say ranked-choice voting ensures that winning candidates have a broad base of support--a majority. In the winner-take-all system (how most elections are held), races with three or four candidates can result in a winner receiving well under 50 percent of the votes. Ranked-choice voting, they say, also prevents an independent or minor-party candidate from playing spoiler to a major-party candidate.

"With ranked-choice voting, you have the freedom to vote for the candidate you like best, without worrying that you will help to elect the candidate you like least," Maine Representative Andrew McLean (D) says. "Ranked-choice voting rewards consensus candidates and ensures that candidates who are opposed by a majority of voters can never win. This better voting system gives...

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