Diane Russell is a Democratic State Representative from Portland. As the director of FairVote and now as a legislator, she has long advocated for the implementation of Ranked Choice Voting. The system allows citizens to vote for candidates in order of preference. This session, she co-sponsored a bill that would make possible this method of voting possible at the state level. I asked Rep. Russell about the bill, and why she is an advocate for the RCV method.
Can you talk a little about Ranked Choice Voting bill your have introduced?
I’ve introduced a bill that would set up a ranked voting system for Maine’s Governor and Legislature. It allows voters to rank their candidates in order or preference, significantly reducing the spoiler effect as well as mudslinging while preserving the ability for new ideas to come forward.
What is your rationale for attempting to pass this at the state level?
Maine is known for its fierce independence and that is certainly true in our politics. RCV preserves that rich history while significantly reducing—virtually eliminating—the spoiler effect.
What are the challenges that face passing the bill?
I’ve been working on this issue over the past several years and this new bill reflects the changes and needs of the state in moving this forward. There is a tremendous amount of momentum behind it this time around.
Where else in the country uses the RCV method, and what has their experience been?
It’s been used in multiple cities around the country, and most recently Portland used it to elect its first mayor with great success.
Can you talk a little more about the implementation of RCV in Portland?
There was a lot of work that went into public education leading up to the election, candidates took the time to educate their voters and the City worked with a contractor to manage the vote counting. I couldn’t be there the day they counted the votes, but apparently it was a “who’s who” of Portland and the results were remarkably positive.
How would you respond to suggestions that Democrats are advocating for this apparatus because it arguably handicaps races in their favor versus the popularity of unaffiliated candidates?
The real allegation is whether Democrats are introducing this bill because of Gov. LePage. First, this has been part of the party platform for some time. Second, I’ve introduced this bill three times now in some form or another. And, third – If this handicapped independent or third-party candidates, I doubt the Green Party would not be the ardent supporter of this that they are. Across the country, Libertarians have been advocating for this as well in regions where they have party status. This is just a better voting system, reflecting the very real choices a robust democracy brings.