Maine’s Instant Runoff Experiment

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Maine has its midterm primary election on June 12. That election will feature the nation’s first instant runoff to determine the winners for any race where the top candidate does not garner 50% or more of the votes.

This is how it works.

Let’s take the Democratic primary for the Governors race, which features almost a dozen candidates. (By the way, this race is currently considered either a Toss-Up or Leans Democratic.) When voters get their ballot, they will rank their favorite candidate with numbers (#1, #2, #3…) If no candidate gets 50% or more of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated. All of the voters who had that candidate ranked #1 will then have their #2 candidate chosen, and the votes will be recalculated. They continue this process until one candidate has 50% of the vote, and that candidate moves on to the general election in November.

One of the big things election watchers will be looking for is how the instant runoff affects how the candidates campaign. Especially with a large field of candidates, candidates can’t just count on their base to give them a plurality. They will need to appeal to a much wider swath of voters to scoop up as many #2 and #3 choices as possible. For that reason, could instant runoff rules discourage negative campaigning?

For more about this story, read Maine Public’s article Mainers to Test Ranked-Choice Voting While Deciding Whether to Keep It

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Categories: Explainers

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