Rank Choice Maine

A case study.

Last cycle ALG worked with Fair Vote Maine on a ballot initiative to pass ranked-choice voting (RCV). Our efforts helped this historic measure pass by a narrow margin, making Maine the first state in the United States to adopt ranked-choice voting.

Instead of voting for a single candidate, voters rank all candidates in an election. If a single candidate doesn’t garner a majority in the first round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The second-choice of the voters whose first-choice was the eliminated candidate is applied in the next round, and so on until a candidate wins a majority.

Ranked-choice voting is an issue that can be difficult for voters to grasp, which is especially problematic for a ballot initiative given that voters typically vote no on initiatives that they do not understand. Our research helped inform a strategy that made RCV more digestible to voters while also winning them over on its merits.

To accomplish this, we began with online focus groups (QualBoards) that provided us with an in-depth look at how voters’ viewed Maine’s current elections system, what they wanted to see improved, and their reactions to RCV as well as to specific ballot language on the issue. This provided us with a better read on what aspects of RCV voters found most resonant and most confusing, helping us to determine which parts to highlight and which to avoid, and helped strengthen our ballot language.

From there we moved to an online poll where we tested the potential ballot language and completed rigorous message testing to determine the most effective messages, and the best combination of messages, to use in paid and earned communications. This poll revealed that different messaging was needed for different partisan audiences, resulting in a tailored approach for our digital, mail, and field programs. After a hard-fought battle, including strong opposition from the current Governor and his administration, Maine passed ranked-choice voting with 52% support.