Politics & Other Mistakes: The Pingree conundrum

68

In an ironic twist, ranked-choice voting, supported by nearly all Democrats, has the potential to cost those same Democrats the only major office they hold in Maine.

I’m much too polite to say I told you so. Instead, I’ll just chortle quietly to myself.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, the Democrat who represents the state’s 1st District in Congress, ought to be guaranteed a sixth term when voters go to the polls in November. Pingree is liberal, and so is her district. Pingree has plenty of campaign cash, and neither of her opponents has much. Pingree is well known, and the other two (I’ll give you their names in a moment, after I look them up) are not.

This should be a slam dunk.

Except for that annoying ranked-choice thing.

RCV allows voters to rank all the candidates according to their perverse preferences. If no one gets over 50 percent in the first round, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and his votes are redistributed to the voters’ second choices. This continues until somebody gets what is misguidedly called a majority, but actually might be just a plurality based on the ballots still in play. Those who didn’t vote for one of the top two survivors could be dismayed to find out their votes don’t count at all in the final tally.

In other words, ranked-choice is complicated, time-consuming (it took eight days to get results in the June primary), expensive (it will cost the state an extra $3 million to $4 million in November), and doesn’t guarantee that the winner actually gets more than half the votes. In corrupt countries like Venezuela or Turkmenistan, that would be considered standard operating procedure. In Maine, somehow, it’s called reform.

So, how does that affect Pingree’s race? As noted above, she has a pair of relatively unknown opponents. After consulting official documents, I’ve determined they are Republican Mark Holbrook and independent Martin Grohman.

Holbrook of Brunswick ran against Pingree two years ago on a platform that can best be summarized as “I’m an obnoxious toad.” After that resounding defeat, he revised his strategy, and his new campaign slogan is “I’m NOT an obnoxious toad.”

Grohman, a state representative from Biddeford, was an almost invisible figure in the Legislature until last year, when he switched his registration from Democrat to independent. Nobody noticed that, either. Then, he decided to run for Congress, where it’s even easier to be ignored among 434 other stupefying incompetents.

In any previous year, it would have been a simple matter of declaring Pingree the winner by default and moving on to more interesting races. But ranked-choice voting has intruded, and suddenly there’s an unlikely, but plausible option whereby Grohman could win this contest.

Holbrook is running on the Trump agenda, which has all the appeal in left-leaning southern Maine of rotting seal carcasses. Grohman, on the other hand, is presenting himself as a pro-business centrist with a proven record of not attracting any attention. Republican Gov. Paul LePage was so taken with that approach that he went off script during a June speech and declared Grohman “is what Maine needs.” His spin doctors were quick to walk that comment back, claiming it was less of an endorsement and more of prescription for chronic constipation.

Nevertheless, some devious members of the GOP legislative delegation, realizing their nominee has no chance of winning this race, have endorsed Grohman in hopes he can finish ahead of Holbrook in the first round of voting and garner a lot of second-place votes from those diehards who insist on sticking with the Republican candidate as their first choice.

Now, here’s the tricky part. For that strategy to have any impact, Pingree has to receive less than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, so that ranked-choice kicks in. That doesn’t seem likely. She got 58 percent two years ago without breaking a sweat. The only public poll this time around had her at about 53 percent. There’s no sensible scenario in which the number of middle-of-the-road weenie votes and right-wing crazy votes combine to give Grohman even the narrowest of majorities.

Still, it’s big fun to watch the consternation among the ranked-choice faithful (in a fundraising email, Pingree’s campaign has already claimed “Republicans think they can game Maine’s new voting system”) at the possibility their self-imposed disruption of traditional balloting could cost one of their most prominent supporters her position of power.

Sound the irony alarm. Maybe that will drown out the sound of my chortling.

No need to rank your comments emailed to aldiamon@herniahill.net.

SHARE