Breaking down ranked-choice voting

Published: May. 21, 2018 at 6:20 PM EDT
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In 2016, voters approved ranked-choice voting.

Next month, Maine will become the first state to use it in a statewide election.

The tabulation process is expected to draw national attention, but here at home, folks are still concerned about how it all works.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap says, "The idea behind ranked-choice voting is to achieve a sort of consensus around who our elected leaders turn out to be. We've had a number of statewide elections in the last couple of decades where the top vote-getter did not exceed 38 percent of the vote."

It is designed to ensure that winners secure a majority and not merely a plurality of the vote.

Dunlap says, "It's had a somewhat arduous journey, to say the least, but we are going to be using it here in the June primary for the republican and democratic primaries for governor, the democratic primary for congress, and a republican primary for house district 75."

Dunlap says the voting process is simple. He says, "The way it works is that you can rank your choices one through however many are in the race, whereas prior to this you could only pick one candidate."

If no candidate receives a majority of first place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and whoever their voters chose as their second choice is added to the tally of the remaining contenders.

That process continues until there are only two candidates left, and the one with the most votes wins.

But you don't have to rank all of them - you could still simply vote for one candidate as your first choice.

Dunlap says, "The only thing that would cause a vote not to be counted at all, is if you left it completely blank or marked all candidates as your first choice. That's an over-vote and you can't tell which candidate the voter was trying to select so, that would not be counted."

The secretary of states office has created detailed sample ballots for voters to browse through on the Upcoming elections webpage:

Officials say the most confusing issue for Mainers has been the tabulation process.

Towns will calculate votes just like normal either through hand counting or electronic tabulation to determine if there is a majority winner.

If there isn't majority winner, the process of collecting all ballots through a professionally hired courier service begins.

Dunlap says, "It's going to take a little time to get all of that together but it shouldn't be more than a few days. Once we have everything in Augusta, we have an algorithm that's been developed by our vendor that will allow us to then run the tabulation electronically, which should take about a tenth of a second once we have everything fed in. But, it's just going to be the process of opening the ballot boxes, loading in the information."

Dunlap says ranking candidates in these primaries could truly matter. He says, "Nobody gets a majority unless there is somebody who is dominating and we haven't seen that in this election cycle, at least not in the polling data. So, it's probably fairly likely that we're going to see some of these races go to a second or third round for sure."

The Secretary of State has been traveling across the state for informational sessions.

He will be at the Lewiston Public Library in Lewiston on May 29th starting at 4:00 p.m.

For a schedule of visits go to

He'll also be live on the Maine Department of the Secretary of State Facebook Page on May 24th at 6:00 p.m. providing a breakdown and answering questions:

There is also an information video that breaks down the process found here:

For more information visit: