PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Question 5 on the Ballot this November has to do with ranked choice voting. Instead of choosing one candidate you would rank your choices from your favorite to least favorite. If no candidate in a multi-candidate race gets more than 50 percent of the vote, then the last place candidate would be eliminated and that candidate's second choice votes would be counted. That would continue until one of the candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote.
Supporters of ranked choice voting say a "yes" vote on Question 5 will mean no candidate ever gets elected to office in Maine without a majority vote, which they say will reduce mudslinging in politics because candidates will need to appeal to more than just their base to get elected. The Yes on 5 campaign cites a 2014 Rutgers University study to back up their claim.
"What they found was voters and candidates reported significantly less negative campaigning with ranked choice voting and they reported higher satisfaction with elections, " Yes on 5 campaign manager Kyle Bailey said.
Opponents say there are too many downsides. They fear It may be confusing to some voters, particularly the elderly and minorities. The biggest issue they raise is that the Maine attorney general says it's unconstitutional and the constitution would have to be amended.
"We have our attorney general and a secretary of state both saying it's blatantly unconstitutional, " said Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough. "That should be a grave concern to voters before they step into that ballot box and pull those curtains and decide we're going to change the way we vote."
The big legal issue, critics say, is that the Maine constitution requires a plurality vote, not a majority vote. A plurality vote is one where the candidate who receives the most votes is elected. It does not require that to be a majority of all votes cast.
For example, in the last race for governor in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage won with 48 percent of the vote, compared to Mike Michaud's 43 percent and Eliot Cutler's 8 percent. In that election, the governor won with a plurality vote but failed to get more than 50 percent of the total votes cast or a majority of all votes cast.
Supporters say their own legal experts feel ranked could survive legal challenges.
"This is a red herring from opponents who have said they were opposed to ranked choice voting, regardless of whether they think it's constitutional," Bailey said.
Supporters are organized, they say they have a long list of people behind them, have traveled the state and even hosted beer summits to explain it.
Opponents have no organized opposition. A few lawmakers like Rep. Sirocki are speaking out and hoping voters will listen. Gov. LePage has also criticized it for his appearance on last week's Voice of Maine radio talk show.
"Ranked choice voting is against the constitution. God forbid … I suppose if marijuana passes we could all get high, we could get a toke and stay high," LePage said.
Both sides also argue about the costs of ranked choice voting to taxpayers. Opponents feel it will cost taxpayers money over the current system and supporters believe it could save money.
The Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review fiscal impact statement states that the secretary of state's office would need $761,344 in the fiscal year 2017-18 and $641,440 in the fiscal year 2018-19 to print additional ballot pages and update ballot machines.
The Department of Public Safety would need a general fund appropriation of $75,926 and a Highway Fund allocation of $72,948 in fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19 for overtime and fuel to retrieve, secure and return election ballots. These expenditures would be repeated in subsequent years in similar amounts.
State Treasurer Terry Hayes estimates the cost at roughly $550,000, mainly because the treasurer does not factor in the cost of buying new ballot scanners. She says the secretary of state indicated that they would be buying new scanners regardless of whether this referendum passes.