• Triston Mendez

The Importance of this Friday’s U.S. Senate Debate in Maine

Written by David Mizzell of Our Revolution Los Angeles

Art by Forest Taber | Copyright 2018 | www.TaberCartoons.wordpress.com

This Friday, incumbent U.S. Senator Susan Collins from Maine will be debating challengers Sara Gideon, Lisa Savage and Max Linn. Susan Collins is a Republican perhaps most known for her middle-of-the-road disposition and for being perpetually disappointed in President Donald Trump. Collins notably overlooked the compelling testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in 2018 and much to the… disappointment of many #MeToo champions ultimately voted in favor of confirming alleged sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Further, though Susan Collins isn’t necessarily a stranger to voting against Trump, she did vote in favor of Trump’s huge deficit-exploding tax cut for corporations and the wealthy back in 2017. One of Susan Collins’ challengers Sara Gideon is the current Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. Sara Gideon, however, chose to run for national office and comfortably won the Democratic Primary race earlier this year with a fairly moderate campaign.

Normally in a general election, those would be the two options and anyone who wasn’t impressed would just have to grow up and accept the ultimate futility of electoral politics already like a real adult. But this election is different. Lisa Savage is a Green Party candidate who, unlike her Democratic opponent in the race, explicitly supports progressive policy such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. Lisa will technically appear as Independent on the ballot due to the less onerous signature requirements, though she assures voters her platform is as “green as ever.” What is perhaps most notable about this race is that Lisa Savage and Max Linn, another Independent, will be featured on the debate stage with their Republican and Democratic opponents. In fact, Maine is already represented by Independent U.S. Senator Angus King.

One of the reasons it is such an intuitive decision to include Green and Independent candidates on the debate stage is that Maine has Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). Ranked Choice Voting is a system whereby voters rank candidates in order of preference. When voters’ first choices are counted, if no candidate has a majority then the second choices of the last place candidate’s voters are applied to the next round of tallies. This process continues until one candidate has a majority or a plurality if a majority cannot be reached. Ranked Choice Voting can also be referred to as Instant Runoff Voting, which has also been implemented throughout many cities in America.

Ranked Choice Voting has many benefits. Perhaps most importantly, it all but eliminates the “spoiler effect”. How many times have you heard or even yourself used the refrain, “yes Candidate A is bad but could you imagine if Candidate B were to take office?” *rocks back and forth trying to stave off suppressed memories of 2016* Many people understand the unfortunate realities of a two party, winner-take-all system. But is an alternative system more conceivable then we may realize? RCV could be an incredibly useful tool for creating a healthier and more robust democracy by enabling a wider and more genuine discussion of the merits of policy positions. And the fact that Lisa Savage and Max Linn will be included in the U.S. Senate Debate in Maine is a great example. If not for RCV, it is all too likely that Savage and Linn would be viewed as irrelevant “spoilers” threatening the odds of “real” candidates. Instead, the Democratic and Republican candidates will be forced to contend with the Green Party and Independent platforms ultimately empowering voters to decide not which electoral Franken-creature they absolutely must vote against, but rather what ideas they like the most and which candidate most aligns with their values, policy preferences and vision. Further, RCV has the potential to draw in large subsets of people who would otherwise be disinterested in electoral politics, where too often the issues and concerns of many Americans are not represented or only represented superficially.

Some may say that the process of determining a winner in RCV or Instant Runoff Voting is too complex and that voters will not understand it. However, it is important to note a couple things in regard to this argument. First, there may be some confusion when first implementing RCV where it was not previously utilized. However, such adjustments can be very easily overcome with thorough and detailed instructions not unlike those already necessary for any voting system used in America whether it be in-person or by mail. Second, voters themselves do not need to completely understand the process by which winners are determined in RCV systems in order to be able to fairly and effectively participate in them. That is, though it is not a difficult process to understand if you have five minutes to spare on a simple Google search (or a rare instance in which I don’t viscerally disagree with the lib-destroying, logic-and-facts virtuoso himself Ben Shapiro), if you can rank items in order of preference then you can effectively and accurately participate in RCV. There may be a marginal learning curve as there is with any adjustment to a system. But this begs the question, is the system working well enough for us to dismiss the need for such adjustments? Further, in a country where almost half of eligible voters do not bother voting in presidential races and even less show up for primary and off-year elections, can we afford not to look seriously at ideas like RCV?

In an example of an unhealthy codependence with our current dysfunctional and oppressive two party duopoly, California’s Democratic™ Governor Gavin Newsom blocked a RCV bill late last year. This move is particularly outrageous given that the Democratic Party has spent the last four years lambasting third party candidates like Jill Stein for supposedly throwing the presidential election to Donald Trump. While exit polling statistics have contradicted or at least undermined such a narrative in regard to the 2016 presidential race, the hypothetical dilemma is fair. And frankly, this dilemma has come around to haunt many of us again for the 2020 presidential race. How do you vote if you are genuinely terrified of one candidate, but not overly enthused for their viable opponent? RCV gives you the ability to voice your support for your preferred candidate while still offering opposition to candidates you find unpalatable or even outright petrifying. Further, if Democrats like Gavin Newsom are genuine in their concern for the potential of third party candidates to throw elections to right-wing super villains, then wouldn’t RCV be a great idea?

“The cure being proposed is far worse than the disease,” Gavin Newsom remarked in regard to his decision to veto the RCV bill seemingly suggesting that the process would be too complicated, too cumbersome and just downright too democratic. I mean who has the time, the resources or the patience to articulate ballot instructions or tally votes? The costs could run into the hundreds dollars. Plus, if more people become aware of RCV, how is the Democratic Party going to keep obfuscating their underwhelming policies via the likes of stupefying caricatures like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump? People voting their conscience instead of their fears? Not on Gavin Newsom’s watch. Thanks Gavin Newsom!

To be fair, Ranked Choice Voting does face considerable opposition from Republicans in Maine as well. Such affronts to democratic measures, however, just don’t have the same sting as when they come from leaders of the Democratic Party itself drawing from the same tired playbook. If your party is named after democracy, seems like you would be more inclined to… embrace… democracy.

The upcoming U.S. Senate debate in Maine potentially stands to represent exactly what an America could look like with an electoral system that encourages instead of suppresses ideological diversity and multi-partisanism. We live in a country where the sentiment of the people has little to no impact on policy and legislation. This is in large part thanks to a campaign ecosystem that all too often breeds candidates that feel no need to make an affirmative case for themselves but rather prefer to fear monger about what ghastly consequences will be portended by the election of their opponent. For the second presidential race in a row, Democratic Party voters are being driven by fear of the Republican candidate instead of enthusiasm for the Democratic counterpart. And such motivations are significantly prevalent for Republican voters as well. Where is the vision? Where is the leadership? Or are we supposed to be satisfied with voting against a negative more so than voting for much of anything else? Presumably nearly half of eligible voters have tuned out the circus act altogether, because it either doesn’t seem relevant or because voting seems to entail very little actual agency. It doesn’t have to be this way. And in fact, in Maine and many other U.S. cities, it already isn’t. This is why I think the upcoming debate on September 11 is so important. It gives us all the opportunity to see how the discussion changes when more voices instead of less are heard. This is also why I think advocating for RCV in Los Angeles and throughout the country is such an important component to not only pushing forward progressive policy but also doing away with the toxic two party duopoly that has disempowered voters and enabled lackluster politicians for far too long and at far too steep of a price.