It has been a rocky year for Maine’s first-in-the-nation system of ranked-choice voting, but the method has survived court challenges and will be used in the U.S. Senate race and presidential race here in the Nov. 3 election.

Here’s a refresher on how the system can be used, where remaining judicial fights stand and how the votes will be counted after Election Day.

How does ranked-choice voting work?

Ranked-choice voting, passed by Maine voters in a 2016 referendum, differs from traditional elections in which a candidate who gets a plurality of votes wins. In ranked-choice elections, voters choose multiple candidates in order of their preference. A winner is declared if a candidate wins an outright majority of votes.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of total votes, the last-place finisher is eliminated. The second choices of voters who cast ballots for that candidate are then considered and reallocated to the remaining candidates. The process repeats until a winner emerges with a majority of the votes in a final round of voting.

How is Maine using ranked-choice voting this year?

This year, the method will apply to only two races: the Senate election between Republican Sen. Susan Collins, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn and the presidential race between Republican incumbent Donald Trump, Democrat Joe Biden, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, Green Howie Hawkins and Rocky De La Fuente of the Alliance Party. 

It is the first time in U.S. history that Electoral College votes will be awarded this way. Maine will effectively run three ranked-choice voting elections to allocate its four electors — two for the statewide winner, one from the 1st Congressional District and one from the 2nd District.

The Maine Constitution bars ranked-choice voting in general elections for state office, so 2020 legislative races will be decided by pluralities. There are only two candidates each running for Maine’s two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives this year, so ranked-choice voting does not apply.

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