Maine experiments with ranked-choice voting

Shawn Moody won the Republican nomination for governor of Maine on Tuesday, but he won’t know his Democratic opponent for several more days because of a new ranked-choice voting system that changes the way winners are selected.

In most states, the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner in a primary or general election. With ranked-choice voting, the winner must garner a majority – not just a plurality – of the votes.

Moody easily cleared that hurdle, landing 57 percent of Republican primary votes. But on the Democratic side no candidate won a clear majority (Janet Mills was tops with 32 percent), so the last-place finisher (Donna Dion, according to the latest returns) will be dropped from the race and the votes of her supporters will be parceled out to the candidate who they ranked second. The winnowing process, which could take as long as a week, will continue until one candidate wins a clear majority.

Maine is the first state to try ranked-choice voting, although several cities, including Cambridge, Minneapolis, and San Francisco, also use it. So do Australia and the Oscars. A group of Massachusetts residents calling themselves Voter Choice Massachusetts is hoping to put a question adopting ranked-choice on the ballot in 2020.

It’s been a struggle for Maine voters to get to this point. They originally approved ranked-choice voting by referendum in 2016, but in May 2017 the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the language of the constitution barred such an approach for gubernatorial and legislative general elections. The Legislature responded by passing a law delaying and potentially repealing ranked-choice voting, but a group backing ranked-choice gathered enough signatures  to put a measure repealing that law on the ballot and voters on Tuesday approved it by an estimated eight points.

The upshot of all the legal and political maneuvering is that ranked-choice voting will continue in Maine for all primaries and federal, but not state, general elections. Ranked-choice voting could be expanded to all state elections if the Maine constitution is amended.

Much of the impetus for ranked-choice voting in Maine stemmed from the election victories of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, a polarizing politician who won with 48.2 percent of the vote in a three-way race in 2014 and 37.6 percent of the vote in a four-way race in 2010. Nine of the last 11 governors in Maine were elected with less than 50 percent of the vote.

The argument for ranked-choice voting has attraction in a state like Massachusetts where Democrats dominate and seats tend to open up only when officeholders run for higher office or die. Paul Schimek, in a 2017 analysis for CommonWealth, highlighted race after race in Massachusetts where a Democrat won a crowded primary with a small percentage of the vote, beat the Republican in the general election, and then used the power of incumbency to hold on to the seat. “These elections all failed a basic test of democracy: respecting the will of the majority,” wrote Schimek.

This year’s race in the Third Congressional District may follow a similar pattern. The Democratic primary has more than 10 candidates and someone is likely to win with a tiny percentage of the vote.

Backers of ranked-choice say it gives give voters a greater voice in elections, eliminates spoiler candidates, and forces candidates to appeal to a wider constituency. In Australia, the need for candidates to garner widespread support from the backers of rivals has diminished negative campaigning, but there was little evidence of that in the Maine primaries.

The biggest concern, that voters would be confused by the requirement that they rank each candidate rather than vote for just one, appeared to be unfounded.

“I think it’s remarkably easy,” Patricia Darling-Pena of Bangor told Maine Public Radio. “I think a leaflet in the mail could easily explain it for everyone.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

As usual, Beacon Hill lawmakers have backloaded their two-year session with a bunch of bills still pending as the clock ticks down to the July 31 end of formal sessions for the year. (Boston Globe)

State Sen. Julian Cyr has offered an amendment to the budget that would allow a hardship waiver for the new state fee assessed against companies whose employees receive health coverage through MassHealth or the Health Connector. (Cape Cod Times)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A former Hingham DPW worker is suing the town and a selectman for firing him in violation of the state’s and town’s whistleblower policy after he sent an anonymous letter to selectmen about two candidates being interviewed for police chief. (Patriot Ledger) The issue was the focus of several CommonWealth stories detailing how the town did not look into the allegations but launched a $40,000 investigation to determine who sent it.

Mayor Marty Walsh is recommending pay raises for himself and city councilors, whose salaries would jump to more than $100,000 under the proposal. (Boston Herald) A Herald editorial scoffs at the “audacity” of the pay boost.

A group of city leaders formed a coalition of mayors to exchange tips on dealing with the marijuana industry at last week’s US Conference of Mayors gathering in Boston — but Mayor Marty Walsh, a vocal opponent of legalization, has not joined the group. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump is trumpeting his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, though experts say there was little substance to what was agreed to. (Washington Post) Joe Battenfeld says the meeting was a “self-produced version of one of Donald Trump’s successful reality shows.” (Boston Herald) A Globe editorial says even if the meeting leads to nothing substantive, it may be good that Trump “threw away” the rule book that has governed relations between the two countries.

ELECTIONS

The state Republican Party is about to hire former Democratic attorney general Tom Reilly to fight a lawsuit filed by GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Lively charging that Mass. GOP violated its neutrality rules by helping Gov. Charlie Baker collect nominating signatures. (Boston Globe) Baker also paid for emails sent out by the state party. (MassLive)

A political rival’s criminal assault complaint against state Rep. Rady Mom of Lowell was dismissed by a clerk magistrate. (Lowell Sun)

US Rep. Mark Sanford lost his reelection bid in the GOP primary in South Carolina after President Trump tweeted out his support for Sanford’s challenger that included a not-so-veiled reference to Sanford’s disappearance to Argentina to visit his mistress when he was the state’s married governor. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Remember Boston 2024, the would-be Olympics that the city pulled the plug on once leaders finally realized they’d be left holding the bag for millions of dollars in likely cost overruns? Shirley Leung recalls it, too, but with a still-dreamy longing for the wonders she says it could have delivered. (Boston Globe)

The United States, along with Mexico and Canada, won a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup by promising an $11 billion profit to the game’s governing body, twice the amount of Morocco, which was the only other bidder. (ESPN)

Short-term rentals such as Airbnb are pushing long-term housing rents higher across the state because of the diminishing number of available units. (Wicked Local)

Some Braintree residents are opposed to a planned Amazon distribution center near the South Shore Plaza, fearing the facility will worsen an already-congested traffic situation at the five-corner intersection. (Patriot Ledger) In Seattle, the City Council repealed the short-lived “Amazon tax” that assessed $275 per employee on the city’s highest grossing companies. (National Review)

Two liquor stores in Worcester sold for a total of $6.4 million in advance of a change in state law that will allow individuals and businesses to expand their ownership of package store licenses. (Telegram & Gazette)

EDUCATION

Harvard is girding for a looming legal challenge that says its admission process disadvantages Asian applicants, with the university’s outgoing president, Drew Faust, penning a letter to the Harvard community labelling the claims expected to be made in a lawsuit on Friday “inaccurate” and based on “misleading, selectively presented data.” (Boston Globe)

A company touting itself as a debt relief agency for student loans has agreed to cease operations in Massachusetts and will refund money to all its customers in the state under an agreement with the Attorney General’s office which charged United Advisors Group with collecting large upfront fees and misleading customers. (Patriot Ledger)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Eric Schultz, the longtime CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, resigned abruptly as a result of unspecified behavior that the insurer said was “inconsistent” with its values. (Boston Globe)

Attorney General Maura Healey filed suit against Purdue Pharma, alleging that the maker of OxyContin knowingly mislead doctors and consumers about the dangers of the drug. (Boston Globe)

A report from Blue Cross Blue Shield finds that the rate of skin cancer on the Cape is among the highest in the country. (Cape Cod Times)

A new study finds more Americans are using common prescriptions that can cause depression and suicide. (U.S. News & World Report)

TRANSPORTATION

An overhead wire problem caused the shutdown of the underground portion of the Green Line for 2½ hours Tuesday morning. (CommonWealth)

In part one of a two-part series, Jim Aloisi calls Uber and Lyft existential threats to public transportation. (CommonWealth)

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz is bullish on north-south train travel between Springfield and Greenfield. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A coalition of environmental groups gives the Baker administration a “C” for its environmental protection efforts. (State House News)

Sean Garren of Vote Solar sees storm clouds building over the Massachusetts solar industry. (CommonWealth)

Residents along a scenic road in Hopkinton are opposed to a planned solar array in the area because they fear the clear-cutting will  “spoil the bucolic feel” of the road. (MetroWest Daily News)

A rare pygmy sperm whale washed up on the beach in Ipswich. (Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Murders are up by 50 percent in Boston over the first half of the year, but overall crime, including nonfatal shootings, are down. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

Some of the investors in Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund with a controlling interest in the company that owns the Boston Herald and Lowell Sun, are surprising. The biggest surprise? The Knight Foundation. (newsmatters)