Episode Three: As Maine Goes (Ranked Choice Voting, The Spoiler Effect, and Negative Campaigns)

Episode Three: As Maine Goes (Ranked Choice Voting, The Spoiler Effect, and Negative Campaigns)


– The way our system is set up, there is a strong incentive to vote for one of the two major parties. Voters feel an incentive, essentially, not to waste their votes
on third-party candidates. They don’t want the other side
to win, and they feel like, “Oh, if I vote for this
third-party candidate, “then I’m depriving my
preferred party of a vote.” – [Narrator] Lesser-of-two-evil voting is a product of our election system, otherwise known as plurality,
or first-past-the-post. – In systems where you have a
first-past-the-post election, whoever gets the most votes
gets the seat, and that’s it. – [Narrator] And how
we vote for our leaders enables fear and negativity
to be viable campaign tactics. – A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust
with nuclear weapons. – The Clintons are
criminals, remember that. They’re criminals. (cheering) – [Narrator] On Election Day in Maine, citizens will have an opportunity to adopt a new voting system. Ranked choice voting, that could remedy some of these issues. To better understand
how ranked choice voting can solve these problems,
and how Maine could become the first to implement
it at a state level, we must first take a look at
Maine’s political history. This is episode three, As Maine Goes. Maine’s 2010 gubernatorial election was a competitive three-way race. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler lost to Republican Paul LePage
by two percentage points, 36 to 38%. In his first term, LePage
establishes himself as a deeply-divisive figure. Sensing another opportunity in 2014, Cutler decides to run again. – It just so happened that my graduation was perfectly in line with the
2014 gubernatorial election here in Maine, and I actually
had the opportunity to join the cycle with about three months left. You had the Republican
incumbent candidate, Governor Paul LePage, you
had his Democratic challenger Mike Michaud, and you had
the independent candidate, Eliot Cutler. All were seriously competitive candidates. There were calls to leave
the race for some candidates, there were calls for who had
the best chance of winning, who was a spoiler, who was
hurting whose candidacy. – I’ll hit you with a
question you must get probably more than any
other on the campaign trail, you look at that poll, you
look at Paul LePage’s record, and you look at a Maine voter
who looks at Paul LePage and says, “My priority this
year is to get Paul LePage out.” Isn’t there a case to be made for, let’s unify the opposition here? – All those things became the
conversation, rather than, what’s my economic policy,
what’s my education policy, what’s my health policy, what’s
my leadership experience, and so forth. The whole campaign became
about something else. – It is kind of the moment
of truth for Eliot Cutler, there’s very few, if any,
people out there right now who are looking at this,
even given today’s numbers, and thinking that he can win,
so, he’s either going to have to double down and look
for a real miracle, or reassess his viability as a candidate. – What I conceded to Paul LePage on the morning after the 2010 election, I said that I believed, and I quote, that we had stuck a dagger in the heart of negative campaigning,
in the state of Maine. I believed that we had beaten
back the politics of fear. I was wrong. I am realist about my chances, but I’ll be damned if I will
cowtow to party politics, and allow a bunch of polls to drown out the voices of thousands of Maine people, who believe that standing for
principles, ideals, and ideas, makes you an American, and not a spoiler. – That was a turning point in the way that I viewed politics. I always thought that it was as simple as, the candidate with the best ideas wins, the candidate with the
positive campaign wins, and voters really feel
like they have a voice and a real choice in this system. 2014, in my experience, blew
away all those assumptions. – For those voters who have
been seized with anxiety and who don’t want fear to become an indelible and permanent
hallmark of politics in Maine, I have one single request. Regardless of whether you
vote for me or someone else, please join me in supporting the proposed citizens’ initiative for
ranked choice voting, and sign the petition at
the polls on November 4, to bring ranked choice voting
to a vote of the people in a referendum. – He said that if we wanna
do away with all of these harmful, negative elements
of our election process, look no further than ranked choice voting. – [Narrator] Cutler spent the
last eight years of his life trying to become Maine’s governor. In one election, he was the
contender that lost by 2%. The next, he was fighting the
stigma of being a spoiler, just ruining it for someone else. Why did he use some of the last
moments of his 2014 campaign to talk about voting reform? – Maine currently has first-past-the-post, which a lot of places in the country have. We hold an election on Election Night, the candidate that gets
the most votes wins. If you got two candidates
with the ballot we use now, someone’s gonna get a majority. But as soon as that third
candidate enters the race, or fourth, or fifth, which
is not uncommon in our state, suddenly, someone could win
with 36, 37, 38% of the vote. – You gotta energize and
hold on to a 38% core that really supports what you’re about, and you gotta knock everybody else down below that 38% level
so that you’re elected. That turns out to be an
effective, and as we’ve seen, not uncommon political strategy in the current voting system. – [Narrator] Multi-candidate elections are not usual in Maine. – Over the last 40 years,
we’ve had 11 governor’s races, nine of the 11 were won by somebody with less than majority support. Five of the 11 were won by somebody with less than 40% of the support. So, and that includes
Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. – Independent third-party candidates aren’t getting three or
four or 5% of the vote, they’re getting nine,
15, 20, 35% of the vote. They’re very competitive. And that’s what Mainers like. – [Narrator] Because of this,
some Mainers had been looking for a system that would better accommodate the electorate’s political diversity. The reform that Cutler endorsed
in his press conference is called ranked choice voting. In ranked choice voting,
rather than casting one vote for one candidate, you rank the candidates in order of your preference. In order to win using
ranked choice voting, a candidate must earn a
majority of the votes. If a candidate gets a
majority in the first round, we’re done, they win, good job. If there’s no majority,
the last-place candidate is eliminated. The ballots that ranked
that candidate first now move to the second-place choice, and the election is recounted. Rinse and repeat until
there’s a majority winner. There are precedents
for using this system. It’s already in use in several cities, and for overseas citizens,
including military, and a handful of states. In the cities that use
ranked-choice voting, politicians tell stories of how
it changed their strategies, to be more positive, and inclusive. – The campaign was remarkably positive. There was relatively little
elbowing and attacking. There was some, but relatively
little, because of course, every candidate wanted
to be the second choice of their opponent’s supporters. – If you’ve spent your entire campaign bashing down some other candidate, people that actually liked that candidate aren’t gonna think very highly of you, and list you as a second-choice candidate. – You can’t just play to your base, you have to be in the entire community, if you’re successfully going to win a ranked-choice voting election. – [Mike] In other campaigns,
somebody had a lawn sign of your opponent on the
lawn, when you walk by. In this case, you stopped
and still talked to him, because you say, you know,
“You put up a lawn sign “for me, vote for me second.” Now, that’s pretty unheard
of in most elections, that somebody might
have multiple lawn signs. – There’s been a bill,
in one form or another, to adopt ranked choice
voting in Maine, since 2001. And I think the last one
had like 70 sponsors, Republican, Democrat, and Independent. And eventually what happened,
at the end of the day, is the bill didn’t get
out of the state house. Now, in Maine, we have the
gift of citizen referendum. So if the legislature isn’t
acting on an important issue, the people of Maine are
able, if they collect enough signatures, to put
the issue on the ballot for everybody to vote on. – [Narrator] In 2008, the
League of Women Voters formed a working group
to research and draft another reform attempt. They recruited Dick
Woodbury, former independent state senator to help. The 2014 election was a
catalyst for pushing it forward. – No matter which of the three candidates you were supporting, I
thought there was never a time when the complications
of multi-candidate races would have been clearer. And so, that’s why I dove
in with a group of people to initiate this actual
referendum initiative, at that time. – [Narrator] Dick submitted the proposal to the Maine secretary of
state, and it was approved. – I think we finally got
approved, about a week before Election Day, in
2014, and now we needed to recruit people to
actually be at the polls to collect signatures, right,
because that’s the best opportunity possible
to collect signatures. – [Narrator] Fortunately,
people wanted this. – I can’t remember the exact number, but something between
30 and 40,000 signatures we collected on Election
Day, which was way more than half of what we
needed, all in that one day, with one week of mobilization. People would hug us, “Thank you so much “for putting this forward,
we need this so much.” – [Narrator] The effort
continued into the winter. – We did a lot of our signature collection in the winter of 2015 and 2016, which, even for a lot of New
Englanders, was pretty darn cold. Out on the streets, in
supermarkets, post offices, anywhere there was a local
municipal election being held. – [Narrator] The team eventually turned in over 70,000 signatures in
support of ranked-choice voting to the secretary of state. Once the signatures were certified, the state legislature sent
the initiative to the ballot, as question five. Now it was time to educate voters in time for the 2016 election. – It’s gonna take a lot of work. We’re really gonna have to
be dedicated to the movement, we’re gonna have to be
dedicated to reaching voters in all formats, there’s gonna
be a lot of explaining to do, a lot of education. – [Woman] I think I’ve registered
for the Green Party almost every election,
but I have never voted for a Green candidate,
because I’m a strategic voter. – Right.
– And I couldn’t risk it. – [Candidate] And that’s why
that’s my number-one reason for this, I really do
believe voting should be, should be about our
values, about the issues, about our hearts. – [Narrator] Shenna Bellows
is a voter rights’ advocate, and candidate for the state senate. – The reason I’m campaigning
for ranked-choice voting is because I’m really passionate
about voting rights reform, and I think that ranked-choice voting will increase voter empowerment, in terms of elevating our
principle over politics, allowing voters to vote our conscience. – [Narrator] One of Shenna’s biggest roles is answering the questions brought up by skeptics and critics. – What are some of the other naysayers, what is their point against ranked voting? – Well, there are some
questions of constitutionality, and the first thing that I will say is that Portland has now
experienced two elections under ranked choice voting,
and has not been challenged. Two, our Constitution, while
it allows for plurality, it’s permissive, not exclusive. The most legitimate concern
are that it’s a new system, that it might be confusing to people to have an instant runoff system. – I find it very confusing,
because they had lines going this way, and they
had lines going that way, and it was like a bingo thing. – The answer to that is,
we rank choices in our life all the time! – It really isn’t that
difficult, and really, it’s a really great thing, without that, if we had 35 candidates running for mayor, somebody with, you know,
7% of the vote could win. – A second, more partisan concern is concern that it will encourage
third-party candidates, or independents, to run. I’m not sure that that’s a valid argument, I think, even as a
Democrat, I think we benefit when voters have more choices. (knocking) – I’m here on behalf of FairVote Maine, educating voters on ranked choice voting, are you familiar with
ranked choice voting? – Not really. – [Narrator] FairVote is a
democracy reform organization, helping educate voters
on ranked choice voting. – We will, by the end of this campaign, talk to well over 125,000 Maine people. 125,000 conversations. – [Narrator] However, asking people to change the way they
vote, can be difficult. – I think so many people, again, they don’t think about how
they vote, they’re like, “Oh, I just vote!” But then when you’re like, “Oh, wait, “there are different ways to vote? “There’s a name for how we vote? “Like, first-past-the-post, or plurality,” people are like, “Wait, what?” If we were just to do education campaigns on what first-past-the-post was, I think we’d have just as many obstacles as we would talking about
ranked-choice voting. – There’s a stigma attached to
the idea of a political issue that is changing the established order of things. It’s something that, if it’s
not presented in the right way, I don’t feel like people are
gonna be receptive to it, so that’s what we’re here for. – Is this for federal, or
is this for state only? – State level. This is for state level, this won’t be for presidential elections. – Okay. Well, nothing else, I mean, it seems like nothing is working anymore, so why not try it?
(laughs) – I think it’s also interesting, ’cause our opposition tried to call this a plurality with lipstick,
when I read that, I was like, that’s actually something
I would use as a pro, you know, you don’t
always need to be like, “We need to burn it down in
order to make something better.” I don’t think that ranked-choice
voting is revolutionary, in that it’s like it’s
gonna reinvent the wheel, but I think that little bit of lipstick is what’s necessary and will
make a really big change that we can’t even really anticipate, for a number of election cycles. – [Narrator] It’d be unfair to approach ranked choice voting as
a cure-all for democracy. Nothing’s perfect. It won’t magically solve
all negative campaigning, all strategic voting, or
insure everyone is happy with election results. It isn’t necessarily the
best move for every town, every state, every office. Your mileage may vary. And yet, even some of
ranked choice voting’s biggest critics will
concede that it is a step in the right direction. To move away from our current system is an experiment worth doing. – I think that there is
gonna be a receptiveness, nationally, for this kind of model. Maine certainly isn’t alone in
seeing multi-candidate races, and seeing the vote-splitting
and strategic voting issues that arise as a result. And Maine certainly isn’t alone in seeing all of the negativity
and gridlock of politics, and how it’s deteriorated
into such a divisive thing. What’s worse than a
politician today, right? – [Narrator] 26 states and DC have the ability for citizens’ initiatives and referendums. The effort behind Maine’s
question five is just one story where citizens are taking
reform into their own hands. These stories all have a common thread. Citizens, unhappy with the current system, working together, to
better their government. – Organize, organize, organize, your friends and your neighbors, and get involved, and talk
about democracy reform. – Local citizens have to be involved, in doing the research themselves. Having a real conversation
about what their challenges are, what they’d like to see
improved about their politics, and then look at the
different various reforms and figure out what works best for them. – The people of this country
deserve the democracy that they truly deserve. But it doesn’t come for
free, and it doesn’t come without grassroots effort, to say, not only do we want
change, we demand change, and we’re gonna become
part of that change. And I hope the old adage is true, that as goes Maine, so goes the nation, that other states look
to Maine as an example, that hey, if they can do it in Maine, we can do it here, too. (bubbly electronic music)

Comments

  1. Post
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    DarthDravvid

    Ya know, I get it. I really do. But ya know what, I still won't vote third party this cycle. Johnson and Stein are just a couple of notches above trump in my opinion, and hillary isn't that far ahead of them, but enough so to make it clear. Johnson doesn't align with my views which were Sanders' views, so he's out for me. Stein, while her views align closer than Hillary's views for me, she's got little experience and squandered what little government positions she's held doing nothing. So, by process of elimination, I've gotta vote for clinton, as she's the least of 4 evils in this race.

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    P. T.

    There are a bunch of items on the ballot here in Washington to make the initiative process easier. I have a feeling we may see a rank choice voting initiative on the ballot next time around. Washington has been the home of many firsts in recent years, and is ripe for RCV and third party candidacy. Our voter turnout is projected to be over 80%. Someone needs to realize that if there's a place to do it, it's here. Good luck, Maine.

  5. Post
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    Fenna Dikketetten

    I think the design of the ballot could be a lot clearer. By having headings named First choice, Second choice, etc and having all candidates below each heading with a box in front of them it would be clearer what the rows and the columns in the current design stand for.

  6. Post
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    G L

    I'm in maine way to meny here are low income and don't have cable I hope they are going to walk around and talk with the people or people will vote this out

  7. Post
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    G L

    Pls don't forget the small towns just talk to the young pls they still think there vote does not count not everyone is doing well enough to have cable TV and see this get on ur feet in small towns in maine. You want my vote you better give me a reason I see smutt adds you lose my vote

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