Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

Wag that Tail, Dog

Maine, ranked choice voting, democracy, constitutionality, law,

Last November, Maine voters passed a ballot measure, Question 5, to begin electing their federal representatives to Congress, and their governor and state legislators, using Ranked Choice Voting. This selection mechanism allows voters to rank their choices, thereby removing the “spoiler effect” that often pushes citizens to support the lesser of two popular evils.*

Last month, Maine’s State Senate submitted advisory questions to the Maine Supreme Court about the new law’s constitutionality.

It is indeed constitutional. “Those who argue that ranked-choice voting conflicts with the Constitution,” explained Marshall Tinkle** in the Bangor News, “seem to be reading things into it that simply are not in the text.”

Last week, the Maine Supreme Court heard oral arguments. Justices Donald Alexander and Joseph Jabar seemed concerned about ranked-choice voting making it easier to vote for the person and not the party.

That’s not unconstitutional. But is it somehow bad?

“We are going to have a lot of people abandoning the political parties if ranked-choice voting remains,” argued Alexander. Or perhaps the parties might better serve voters?

The attorney representing the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, James Kilbreth, reminded the justices that the voters have spoken, and as to the resistance by legislators in implementing their will, he remarked, “This is the tail-wagging-the-dog kind of problem.”

The courtroom broke out in laughter when Chief Justice Leigh Saufley responded, “Mr. Kilbreth, it’s a fairly large tail.”

I’m a big fan of ranked choice voting***, but the court’s decision is not about the policy. It’s about whether the dog (the people) will wag the tail (the legislators) or vice-versa.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.


* Portland, the state’s largest city, has used ranked choice voting since 2011.

** And Tinkle should know, since he “wrote the book” on the subject — the reference book, The Maine Constitution.

*** I serve on the Board of Directors of FairVote, an organization that promotes ranked choice voting and other methods to make every person’s vote count.

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By: CS Admin


  1. Richard Sava says:

    From the story – “We are going to have a lot of people abandoning the political parties if ranked-choice voting remains,” argued Alexander.

    He says that like it is a bad thing. Look what the two major parties have done lately.

  2. JFB says:

    Ranked Choice voting is an improvement, and easily administrable with today’s technology, but an advancement only so long as the governments are strictly limited to enumerated powers, balanced budgets, and taxation powers. A tyranny of an unbridled majority can be the worst of all outcomes
    As for the Maine Supreme Court and its questions, they are most telling and again reaffirm the sad and significant politicization of the judiciary, as well as the fact that the parties are not divided om the issue as to who should have the real power, ever.

  3. Paul Jacob says:

    Excellent comments.

    JFB — Indeed, if government’s power is unlimited, we are in sad shape regardless of the voting system.

    • JFB says:

      If the government’s powers are unlimited we are all no more than serfs which it is trying to delude into believing we have control.
      As an aside, the Progressives have never been able to explain two apparent contradictions to my satisfaction. If, as they premise, the people who are too uneducated and foolish to be able to care for themselves how is it they are so wise and empowering at election, and how the elected, coming for that same group, the people, somehow gain the intelligence, wisdom, principles and honor to be able not only to take care of themselves but all others as well, by virtue of their being elected? Can you explain?

  4. Pat says:

    It”s not clear to me what problems this will solve.
    You’ll still end up with the ‘least worst’ candidate from one of the two major parties, unless the people vote overwhelmingly for the ‘third choice’ as their first choice.   All it really does is make the independent candidates less than meaningful.   They’ll have no chance to impact the election unless they can win it outright on the first ballot.    It also absolves voters of their responsibility to weigh the consequences of their vote.  It’s little more than a feel-good measure.   It’s not clear that it will force either of the major parties to find moderate candidates   Both parties can cater to their base knowing that they will ultimately receive all the ‘protest’ votes currently cast for third parties.

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