Will Campaigns About Ranked-Choice Voting Affect Voter Turnout?

Jun 6, 2018

Next week, Maine voters will decide whether to continue to use ranked-choice voting in future elections. In anticipation of this decision, two very different campaigns are underway, each attempting to shape public opinion in advance of the election.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting are behind hundreds of thousands of dollars of broadcast advertisements urging Mainers to keep the system they will use for the first time next week, including on featuring actress Jennifer Lawrence.

Supporters have also held forums around the state, sent out mailings, and posted videos on social media platforms which urge voters to keep ranked-choice voting.

While the “Yes” camp has so far had the airwaves to themselves, opponents are waging a campaign of lawn signs and on social media.

Republican State Rep. Beth O’Connor of Berwick, who wants ranked-choice voting repealed, says a loose network of opponents is delivering its messaging through Facebook.

"They’ve been able to reach well over 75,000 people on social media with that video, and we have other people who are using that same platform,” O’Connor says.

O’Connor says while opponents do not have the money to buy advertising, they also believe that targeted messages to likely voters via social media are more effective and cost-efficient than broadcast advertising in primary elections.

University of Maine, Farmington Political Science Professor Jim Melcher says that the electorate in a primary is not only much smaller, it also tends to be more informed.

“I think the people that like ranked-choice voting are going to turn out. They are very intense, they tend to be high education voters,” says Melcher.

Melcher says these voters also share another common trait.

“Most consistent, strong supporters of ranked-choice voting have tended to be independents. You know all those national independent groups have been talking this up, what a great thing this is."

The challenge for the Yes Campaign, says University of Maine’s mark brewer, will be to get those independent voterss to turn out in a primary election, which is really built for the two major parties.

“Independents don’t have a gubernatorial primary to weigh in on, they don’t have a second congressional district primary to weigh in on, so what is going to bring them to the polls in June?” says Brewer. “Well if you are a ranked-choice voting supporter, you better hope it is ranked-choice voting that’s going to bring them there.”

Brewer says that polling during the initial campaign for ranked-choice voting two years ago indicated that independent voters strongly supported the proposal, which passed by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.

Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for ranked-choice voting, says the strategy this time around has been designed to respond to the expected electorate.

“Every election is different, right? A presidential election is different from a midterm election, which is different from an off-year election,” says Bailey. “So the work we need to do is to educate voters that participate in primaries.”

That education will include the election itself, as primary voters will get to kick the tires on the ranked-choice voting system that they are being asked to evaluate for future contests.