People from Maine (Mainers or Maineiacs – either is acceptable) have been outraged at the election of Governor Paul LePage for many years, with bumper stickers dotting the state, with simply “61%.” This sticker was created after LePage won the governorship with only 38% of the vote in 2010, the third lowest non-independent gubernatorial win since 1990. The bumper sticker was a way to signify that the person was part of a large majority that didn’t vote the governor into office.
On Tuesday evening, Mainers voted to veto the state legislature and immediately implement ranked choice voting, a measure that would allow voters to rank the candidates they would like in office. If no candidates receives a majority vote, they begin a complex process of allocating second, third, etc. vote choices until a candidate has the majority. The retaining of the measure actually passed by a larger margin (54% to 46%) than the original enactment two years ago (52% to 48%).
Maine has a tradition of electing governors without a majority of the votes. Including independent candidates, Maine has had three of the 10 governors who won with the lowest percentage of the vote, according to data on uselectionatlas.org. The Maine governors with low winning percentages include Angus King, who is now an independent US senator, but won the governorship in 1994 with just 35% of the vote. LePage won in 2010 with 37.6% of the vote and John Baldacci won in 2006 with just 38.1% of the vote.
There have been efforts to implement ranked choice voting in many of the states where low vote-getting candidates won a race, including Rhode Island, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, and many more. These are also all states where independent candidates, like former Gov. Lincoln Chaffee in Rhode Island, have had strong showings.
At the local level, ranked choice voting is used in certain cities in California, Colorado, Minnesota, and New Mexico. FairVote, an organization that advocates for ranked choice voting in the US, believes this law could solve problems such as “gridlock, low turnout elections, and increased polarization” that “[prevent] American democracy from living up to the expectations of its citizens.”
Had ranked choice voting been in place during the 2010 election when LePage was first elected, the state may have seen very different results because the independent, and much more socially liberal candidate, Eliot Cutler closely followed LePage with 36%. He, presumably, would have gotten second ballot support from more Democrats. LePage came much closer to a majority - 48% – in his re-election bid in 2014. A stronger Democrat came in second and Cutler lagged with just 8% that year.
LePage states that he will “probably not” certify the results of Tuesday’s vote – ignoring the fact that he may not be allowed to do that.