The Universal Notebook: Ranked-choice voting is pretty rank

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Now that we have all had a chance to see ranked-choice voting in action, can we agree to scrap it and try something else?

Personally, I kind of like the idea of an open primary, but then I was all for giving RCV a chance until I saw what a mess it makes.

RCV was supposed to produce a winner we can all have confidence in because he/she secured a majority. It was also supposed to make political campaigns more civil because candidates would have to appeal to a broader constituency than just their respective bases. But all you have to do is look at the 2nd District congressional race to see what a crock that was.

The 2nd District race between incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democratic challenger Jared Golden was one of the nastiest in the country. And far from creating confidence in a majority winner, RCV had Poliquin supporters questioning the constitutionality of RCV and the integrity of the ballot count from the get-go.

Before the votes were even tabulated, Poliquin was in court seeking to stop the secretary of state from counting them. No surprise coming from a politician who pledges his allegiance to a man who would not promise to honor the outcome of the presidential election unless he won. Fortunately, the judge denied Poliquin’s request for a temporary restraining order.

I am more than pleased that Golden ousted Poliquin, but RCV is still a cumbersome, confusing process. Very few voters completely understand it no matter how many times supporters explain it and insist it’s simple. It just isn’t.

In the four-person 2nd District race, for example, because no candidate received a majority of the first-choice ballots, fourth-place finisher William Hoar was eliminated and the second choice votes of his 6,900 voters were assigned to the remaining three. That didn’t put Poliquin or Golden over the top, so third-place finisher Tiffany Bond was eliminated and her 16,500 voters’ second-choice votes were assigned to Poliquin and Golden.

The conventional wisdom was that Golden would receive more of the Hoar and Bond votes, and he did. The second-choice votes overcame Poliquin’s 2,000-vote first-choice advantage and gave Golden the victory. Maine Republicans calling Poliquin the winner because he had more first-choice votes on Election Day is like saying he won the 100-yard dash because he was ahead at 70 yards. No doubt Poliquin will fight the loss in court and lose, prolonging the agony.

Though the first-place votes for the top vote-getters are recounted each round, you can understand why some folks might think RCV means some people get more than one vote. Tiffany Bond even bragged that “her voters” would determine the outcome of the election, as though Poliquin’s and Golden’s voters had nothing to do with it. Had Hoar and Bond not been in the race, however, Golden would have won a much cleaner victory going head-to-head with Poliquin.

Too-close-to-call races in Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Maine demonstrated just how divided Americans are. And in each case there were partisan calls to count all the ballots or to stop counting them, depending on whose candidate was ahead at any given moment. I’d like to think there is a better way, but I’m not so sure.

Maybe we should give a top-two primary a try. All candidates throw their hats into the primary ring together regardless of party and the top two vote-getters go head-to-head in the general election. Simple, right?

The problem with the top-two approach is not just that it allows two candidates from the same party to run against each other in the general election, it’s also that a large number of candidates from one party may split the vote and let an opponent slip in. And, of course, having just two candidates doesn’t guarantee a clear majority. Still, I’d rather Hoar and Bond had been eliminated in a primary rather than muck up the general election.

Plurality winners were not a problem until the extreme partisanship exemplified by Paul LePage and Donald Trump delivered us leaders who make no effort to lead all of the people. They just lead their gangs.

Defenders argue that RCV is the will of the people. RCV passed because Mainers didn’t want an unpopular governor like LePage winning again with 38 percent of the vote. But then the Maine Supreme Judicial Court opined that the state Constitution thwarts the will of the people by stipulating that governors be elected by a plurality, i.e. the most votes.

Maybe that’s not a bad way to pick a winner, after all.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.