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How Maine's Ranked-Choice Voting Could Impact Election

According to the polling site FiveThirtyEight, Democratic nominee Sara Gideon is barely beating Republican Sen. Susan Collins, with Collins gaining support in the last few weeks. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
According to the polling site FiveThirtyEight, Democratic nominee Sara Gideon is barely beating Republican Sen. Susan Collins, with Collins gaining support in the last few weeks. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
October 15, 2020

AUGUSTA, Maine -- Maine will be the first state to use ranked-choice voting in November, and it could decide the Senate election.

As every Mainer is aware, Republican Sen. Susan Collins is in a tight race against Democrat Sara Gideon. But two independent candidates might peel off several percentage points of the vote: Libertarian-leaning Max Linn and Green-leaning Lisa Savage.

Neither Collins nor Gideon is expected to win more than 50% of the vote. If this happens, the candidate with the fewest votes gets eliminated.

Then, if a voter's first choice is removed, their second choice goes to the remaining candidates, until someone has 50%.

Dan Shea, government professor at Colby College, said their recent poll had surprising insights.

"It's not quite as simple as Linn's second choices would go to Collins, and Savage's second choices would go to Gideon," Shea explained. "I'd likely think that the Savage second choice would more likely go to Gideon."

Eight percent of respondents supported Linn or Savage in the Colby poll, although more recent polls show each candidate getting less support by several percentage points.

Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine, thinks Max Linn voters' second choices are the hardest to predict.

"Linn has been inconsistent in what he would like his supporters to do," Brewer said. "There was a point where he said he was going to drop out of the race and endorse Collins if she were willing to agree to certain things. She didn't do that. In a couple instances, maybe said, well maybe Savage should be your second choice."

One important note that is that Maine has what's called "batch elimination." This means that all candidates who are not able to win can be eliminated at the same time.

Early voting is underway in Maine. For anyone who still needs to register, voter-registration forms must be received in the mail by Monday, Oct. 19, or can be dropped off at your town office or city hall until Election Day, Nov. 3.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

*An earlier version of this story failed to clarify that ranked-choice voting in Maine has batch elimination, with a misleading quote about how run-offs could impact the Senate race. As soon as this was brought to our attention, we corrected it. (11:47 p.m., Oct. 14, 2020)

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME