Ranked-choice voting would help improve state elections

Journal Star Editorial Board | February 28, 2021

Maine and Nebraska share one well-known electoral oddity that should be more widely practiced: awarding Electoral College votes by U.S. House district rather than winner-take-all apportionment.

The Pine Tree State led the way with reform to improve elections in this fashion by breaking new ground in 1972, being followed by Nebraska two decades later. But the potential splitting of Electoral College votes isn’t the only change pioneered in Maine.

Voters there also approved ranked-choice voting, a first-of-its-kind idea in the U.S., in 2016 for all state and federal races.

Again, Nebraska has the chance to join Maine in this endeavor – and should seize the opportunity – now that Sen. John McCollister of Omaha has introduced a bill (LB125) to bring the practice to Nebraska in races with three or more candidates.

In ranked-choice voting, rather than selecting an individual on the ballot, voters rank the candidates in order of preference.

If no candidate secures a majority of first-place votes on the first round, the candidate who received the fewest top votes is eliminated, and the second-choice votes on those ballots are elevated. Once a candidate reaches a simple majority, that person wins the election.

Implementation of this system will involve some speed bumps. Elections officials will face a different – not to mention longer and likely more labor-intensive – means of counting votes in close races. And voters will have a learning curve to navigate as they learn how ranked-choice voting works.

Maine instituted the system as a means to ensure winning candidates can prove they had a majority of support, after several close statewide elections were won with less than 50% of the vote. In a state far less purple, though, this proposal still brings benefits.

Perhaps no element of ranked-choice voting would be more important in Nebraska than reducing the perverse incentives of the current structure of partisan primary elections. Rather than pandering to the poles of a party’s voters in hopes of advancing to the general election, a candidate who wants to win must stay palatable to all voters.

If that argument sounds familiar, it’s because it mirrors those used by defenders of the Electoral College.

The overlap of the arguments between the Electoral College and ranked-choice voting should be lost on no one. Coalition building and appealing to voters from both parties are imperative to winning – and governing from the middle for the betterment of all people, regardless of their party affiliation.

As such, Nebraska should follow Maine’s lead – once again – when it comes to a revolutionary way to make the results of elections better for, and more responsive to, its entire electorate.

Read the editorial in the Lincoln Journal Star