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Ranked choice voting begins for absentee ballots

Maine's Secretary of State hopes to demystify the ranked-choice voting process

BRUNSWICK (NEWS CENTER Maine) -- After months of debate, questions and court challenges, Mainers can start using ranked choice voting.

Monday began absentee voting in towns and cities across the state. For the first time in a statewide vote, Democrats and Republicans are choosing their primary candidates for Governor, and for the Second District Congressional race, using ranked choice.

The ballots list the candidates with spaces to mark first, second and subsequent preferences. Voters are instructed to fill in ovals for each selection, similar to traditional voting. Brunswick Town Clerk Fran Smith said Monday she and her staff have been trained and think they are ready to help voters find their way through the new system.

“I’m not worried,” said Smith. “I feel there will be more questions asked, more spoiled ballots someone has marked incorrectly. So we will walk them through the process and make sure they’re comfortable.”

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said the feedback so far has shown voters will be able to adapt to those new ballots.

“Voters are pretty smart and can figure out the ballot,” Dunlap said.

He said more questions and concerns have been expressed about how the ranked-choice votes will be counted. That process will involve a courier service collecting computer “memory sticks” from towns that count with machines, and paper ballots from nearly 240 towns that still count by hand, and transporting them all to a secure facility being created on the campus of the former Augusta Mental Health Institute.

There, says Dunlap, paper ballots will be scanned into the computer system, and memory sticks will be downloaded, then the ranked choice computer algorithm will be applied and the final count made.

That entire process could take a week and possibly more. That’s one reason the Secretary of State is asking towns and city clerks to get the initial vote count completed and ballots prepared as quickly as possible after election day.

“We have to get stuff in as fast as possible because of people waiting to see what the results will be. We’ve emphasized that with them (clerks) and think we will get good cooperation from town partners,” Dunlap told NEWS CENTER Maine.

The Secretary of State’s office has created an extensive ranked choice voting “resource page” on its website HERE, http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/upcoming/rcv.html

to help voters understand the new system. It has also created a video, using an animated Dunlap, to explain how voting and counting will work.

Dunlap will be holding public question and answer sessions over the next week so voters can ask questions in person.

The remaining schedule is:

  • Bangor: Tuesday, May 15, 4-6 p.m., Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow Street
  • Presque Isle: Monday, May 21, 4-6 p.m., Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Public Library, 39 2nd Street
  • Lewiston: Tuesday, May 29, 4-6 p.m. Lewiston Public Library, 200 Lisbon St
  • Online via Facebook LIVE on Thursday, May 24 at 6 p.m., on the Maine Department of the Secretary of State Facebook page.

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