The legislature must act on the crowded ballot problem

6 years ago

Respect the will of the voters on Ranked Choice Voting and put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

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There are, at the moment, two dozen candidates for governor in Maine. It’s entirely possible that Maine’s next governor will be elected with the support of less than a third of the voters.

The number and diversity of candidates should be a cause for celebration, as a reflection of the growing interest in making Maine a better place. Instead of having just two candidates for governor,  each one selected by a narrow swath of partisan voters, we can now hear more voices and more new ideas.  

That is a great thing for Democracy.

The problem is that our electoral system was built for a time when only two candidates were expected to be on the ballot from each major party. It’s a system built for black and white television sets when we’re all watching big screens in a thousand strands of color. It’s time we rebuilt this outmoded system so that it reflects modern realities.

The public has done its part by enacting Ranked Choice Voting. They know there’s a problem, and they want it fixed  –  not by shrinking the number of candidates but by establishing new structures that reflect what’s been happening in Maine elections over the last  40 years, when we’ve elected as many Independent governors as we have from either political party.

So what can the Legislature do to modernize the way we vote? Here’s a simple two-step solution:

  1. Put an amendment to the constitution on the ballot this November, so that Ranked Choice Voting can apply going forward, giving us a governor who works for all Mainers rather than just the most energized members of their party. That is something that should have been done last year, but there’s still time for the Legislature to redeem itself. It’s also the right thing to do, for Maine, and for all of us.
  2. By 2020, open the June primaries to all voters and all candidates, rather than just party candidates, and have them all run against each other, with the top two advancing to the November election and no special privileges for party candidates. In an Open Primary, each party would actually have to earn a spot on the fall ballot.

Fixing our broken election system will allow more voices to be heard. It will produce more ideas for moving Maine forward. It will elevate better candidates who are more skilled at leading us through change than protecting the status quo or memorizing slogans. And it will produce more governors who can bring the state together across party and regional lines, in a post-partisan way.

All of that is essential to the goal that most Mainers share of building a fairer, more sustainable and more robust economy..

Some people – particularly those within the two political parties who enjoy built-in advantages in the current system  –  argue that we don’t need to adjust to having more candidates in the race, we just need to go back to a time to when the two parties dominated the political landscape.

But that’s not what Maine people want. They know that the two party system is broken. The parties are great at repeating the same ideas we’ve heard for decades but terrible at embracing new ideas and getting things done. They’re not producing the leaders we need to transition to a 21st-century economy.

Political parties are the conformist machines of the modern era. Put almost any candidate into a partisan primary these days and no matter where they started they come out walking the walk and talking the talk – or they lose. Maybe that will change someday, but it’s not on the near horizon.

So it’s time for the legislature to do its job. Respect the voice of the voters. Put the state ahead of party. For voters, don’t elect anyone who is fighting to preserve the status quo. Continue to take matters into your own hands to put pressure the system.

Alan Caron is an independent candidate for governor who can be reached at