Robert F. Bukaty / AP
One of the closest and most famous races of the US Senate in November could enable a unique type of voting in the state of Maine.
There, the incumbent Republican Susan Collins is defending her seat against the Speaker of the Democratic State House, Sara Gideon, and two independents. Polls show close competition between Collins, who is heading for her fifth term, and the well-funded Gideon.
And Maine voters will use the electoral system to rank their choices among the four Senate candidates.
It sounds complex to someone unfamiliar with the process. But Cara McCormick, co-founder of the Ranking Voting Committee, says this is something most of us are familiar with.
“We are constantly evaluating decisions in our daily life,” she says. “We always say, you know, ‘If you don’t have a mint chocolate ice cream, can you take me the rocky road, please?’ “In terms of voting,” people really get their full range of opinions and preferences about all of the candidates. And it definitely works for us in Maine. And I think it definitely encourages more positive campaigns. “
The ballots that voters will use are pretty straightforward, says Kathleen Montejo, town clerk in Lewiston, Maine.
“Once people look at it, it seems pretty intuitive and you fill in the little bubble,” she says. “It’s almost like taking the SAT test from years ago. And you just fill in the little bubbles.”
Montejo says that as soon as voters see it, their reaction is, “Oh, this is not as bad as I expected. That seems pretty easy and pretty easy.” “”
The ranked voting system was first used in the state’s 2018 general election to help Maine voters become more familiar with the process.
But Montejo says many still have questions. “Question # 1 we always get from people is, ‘Do I have to rate every candidate? Or if I only rate my first choice # 1 and not the other candidates, does my vote still count?’ And the answer is yes. “
A ranking election only comes into play if no candidate receives a majority – i.e. 50% plus one vote. That happened in the 2nd Congressional District of Maine in 2018. Incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin received a majority but not a majority, and after the second voter decisions were counted, Democrat Jared Golden won the seat.
In this year’s Senate race, a candidate, independent Lisa Savage, voted on her news leaderboards, telling voters to make her first choice and Democrat Gideon her second choice.
Mark Brewer, professor of political science at the University of Maine, says this is problematic for Collins.
“Assuming Savage’s supporters put Gideon in second place, what Savage is asking of them, it becomes a disadvantage for Collins,” he says.
However, it is unclear how the votes for the two independent candidates will break. The latest polls show that everyone has roughly the same percentage of votes.
A statement from the Collins campaign said “there is a clear choice” and encourages voters to choose Collins as their first choice.
The state’s Republicans continue to challenge the court election, as this also applies to the presidential race.
Maine gives the winners in each of the state’s two congressional districts one vote. And while polls show Democrat Joe Biden has an overall head start in the state, it’s a much closer race in rural 2nd District, says Anna Kellar, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Maine.
“The race between Biden and [President] Trump in this district is neck to neck, “she says.” So if nobody gets a majority, the votes cast can play a role for a third party or an independent candidate. But instead of being spoilers for these candidates, the second decisions will likely decide the vote. “
For example, Maine’s ranking electoral system could potentially affect not only the composition of the U.S. Senate, but potentially who wins the presidency as well.