Baber v. Dunlap (Maine RCV)

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At a Glance

CLC is fighting to protect the right of Maine citizens to use the electoral system they voted for by ballot initiative: ranked choice voting, which expands voter choice by allowing them to rank preferences for more than a single candidate.

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About this Case

An incumbent Congressman filed a federal lawsuit after losing a race in the November 2018 midterm elections and speaking out against the system of ranked choice voting publicly. However, neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Voting Rights Act precludes ranked choice voting. Instead of burdening the right to vote, ranked choice voting expands the right to vote by permitting voters to express preferences for more than a single candidate and to ensure their opportunity to have their voice considered in determining the ultimate winner. Additionally, if voters choose not to rank candidates, they can choose one candidate, and their ballot will still count.

On November 28, 2018, CLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine in support of Maine’s system of ranked choice voting. The case will be heard on December 5, 2018.

Why Ranked Choice Voting?

The Framers of the U.S. Constitution specifically empowered states to determine the procedures for electing members of Congress.

Voters in Maine strongly support ranked choice voting because it creates a more fair and democratic voting method, requiring candidates to cross the 50 percent voting threshold. More than 60 percent of those surveyed in an exit poll indicating they wanted to keep or even expanded its use to include state races. An even larger majority, just over 62 percent, named majority rule as an important or “very important” priority for election outcomes.

This affirmation underscores the growing support for ranked choice voting, which Maine voters first approved in a 2016 ballot measure and then again in the 2018 primary by an even higher margin.

The system used in most elections, a “traditional plurality voting system” incentivizes candidates to boost their support among their base, while failing to ensure they represent a majority of the voters in their district. Candidates have clear incentives to disregard independent and third-party candidates (and their supporters) who will not garner enough votes to pose a threat. Voters often feel they cannot vote for alternatives to the major party candidates, lest they play the role of “spoiler.”

Ranked choice voting presents an appealing alternative, and Maine is leading the way in enacting it. Ranked choice voting fosters more choice, more competition, and a greater need for cooperation because each candidate must seek the support of a wider range of the electorate. Because candidates must win majority support, ranked choice voting requires candidates to reach out to a broad coalition of voters – causing them to be more likely to engage with voters directly. This kind of system is ultimately more democratic and more majoritarian than traditional plurality voting.

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