How ranked-choice voting is changing Maine campaign strategy

Good morning from Augusta. Three Democrats are collaborating in the seven-way race likely led by Attorney General Janet Mills for their party’s gubernatorial nomination and a Republican in the race wants to go it alone with the new ranked-choice voting system.

These are just two of the examples of how Maine’s pioneering voting system may be leading to changes in the way that some candidates campaign. Hanging over it all — for the moment — is a lawsuit from Republicans looking to stop it, which will be argued today.

What has been clear is indeed true: Other Democrats are trying to bring Mills down. At the Maine Democratic Party’s convention in Lewiston on Saturday, former House Speaker Mark Eves, attorney Adam Cote, lobbyist Betsy Sweet and state Sen. Mark Dion never mentioned Mills’ name, but they made similar attacks on her after a Bangor Daily News poll released in early May put Mills — the only candidate who has held statewide office — well ahead.

On Tuesday, Eves spokesman Will Ikard said the Eves, Cote and Sweet campaigns “have been talking about how we can, together, get the record out there” on Mills. Cote spokeswoman Monica Castellanos said the three campaigns “were ready” to do a joint event last week, but convention preparation stopped it. Sweet’s co-campaign manager, Charlotte Warren, said her candidate wasn’t interested in it. (Michael Ambler, Mills’ campaign manager, said Eves is embracing the “same brand of divisive, negative political tactics” as Gov. Paul LePage.)

One of the main attacks on Mills has been her A+ rating from the National Rifle Association as a legislator, though she has endorsed several gun control measures. The three candidates were at a weekend event hosted by an offshoot of Everytown for Gun Safety, a pro-gun control group that approved of their stances on the issues and Mills was a topic of discussion.

Castellanos said ranked-choice voting strategy hasn’t come up between the candidates. But Eves has said that Sweet will be his second choice in the race and that Cote will be his third choice. Sweet has said that Eves will be her second choice. 

This coalition could be powerful. Cote led the field in fundraising as of late April. Sweet has qualified for $600,000 in Clean Election funding. Eves had only $87,000 at that point and probably less now — likely not enough for a TV blitz, but he was in second place in the BDN poll.

One Republican wants her supporters to vote for her and nobody else. Former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew sent an email to supporters earlier this week saying they should rank her first and not rank any other candidate in an attempt to sort of hack the system that she and most high-profile Republicans oppose.

It may be more of a statement against the voting method than anything else. Mayhew spokesman Zach Lingley said the candidate is on the record against the method for “constitutional and practical reasons.”

But the Center for Election Science, a skeptic of the method, explains in a video that ranking a first-choice candidate could help your least favorite candidate in some scenarios. If that was true for Mayhew, supporters ranking her first wouldn’t have a say in later, perhaps deciding rounds. Also, Mayhew’s strategy won’t penetrate all of her voters.

Not all Republicans are buying into game theory, with Maine Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, another Republican gubernatorial candidate, saying, “Just vote for me.”

“I’m not interested in telling my voters how to vote,” he said. “I think they can figure that out on their own.

Republicans will be in court today trying to toss ranked-choice voting for the June 12 primary. Attorneys for the Maine Republican Party and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap will go before a federal judge in Portland at 2 p.m. today in the party’s lawsuit against the state looking to throw out the voting method for the primary on 1st Amendment grounds. Dunlap’s attorneys have called it “disruptive.” Watch for coverage later today.

‘Senior Safe Act’ passes House and Senate

A bill to protect senior citizens from financial fraud is headed to President Donald Trump. The bill, authored by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in the Senate, among others, and forwarded by U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the House, passed Tuesday in the House after being previously forwarded out of the Senate in March. The bill would help financial institutions train their employees to spot and prevent financial abuse of elder Americans, which happens to the tune of nearly $3 billion annually. The bill also encourages reporting and would implement legal protections for institutions that do.

Reading list

  • A former legislative leader who sparred often with LePage thinks he could restore civility if elected as Maine’s next governor. Eves said that treating people with civility improves the likelihood that difficult negotiations can end successfully for all parties. He also argues that being a “nice guy” should not be equated with being a pushover. Eves remains embroiled in a legal battle with LePage, who threatened to withhold state funding to a public charter school in Fairfield if it did not fire Eves, the school’s newly hired leader. Unlike Mills, who has touted her spats with LePage on the campaign trail, Eves has downplayed his conflicts with the Republican governor, focusing on his ideological differences with the incumbent on issues such as gun control and Medicaid expansion.
  • It could be tough to be a doe during the next hunting season. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s advisory council is considering a plan to issue the highest number of any-deer permits in Maine history. Biologists have recommended issuing 84,745 permits — which is about 8,000 more than the current record of about 77,000 in 2002. The proposal must go through a multistep rulemaking process before being adopted.
  • There will be a new leader at the University of Maine at Farmington. Provost Eric Brown will serve as acting president on the Franklin County school’s campus during the upcoming academic year as university system trustees conduct a search for a successor to Kate Foster, who is leaving Farmington for a job in her home state of New Jersey. Brown has been a member of the university’s English Department since 2003. He became provost in 2016.
  • Art won a victory over bureaucracy in a tunnel under Route 1. The Maine Department of Transportation originally told Woolwich officials that they had to halt a Woolwich Central School art project that involved students painting over graffiti in a pedestrian tunnel under the busy highway. They said the students’ art would make it harder to gauge structural damage and see cracks in the wall of the tunnel. But on Tuesday, MDOT reversed its decision and the student artists can move forward with their mural. At present, the plan for the mural is for a tree with children’s handprints as leaves. We humbly suggest a minor variation of that theme in which trompe l’oeil images of noted Woolwich resident Christopher Cousins in Tarzan garb be inserted among the branches.

We’re going out of style

The Social Security Administration recently released its list of the most popular names for babies born in 2017. Nationally, the top names were Liam and Emma. In Maine, the most popular names were Oliver and Charlotte.

You can check out the top 100 baby names in Maine here. It’s telling that Maine had so few babies born in 2017 that the 100th most common name for girls only went to 11 babies. And it was actually a nine-way tie. The best baby name of 2017, Wilder, did not even make the list.

However, the most troubling aspect of the list for those of us at Daily Brief is the alarming absence of Robert and Christopher. Michael, which for decades ranked in the top 10 nationally, tied for the 25th spot in Maine. As if our Maine native colleague did not already have enough to lord over us.

Come on, Maine parents. You mean Jackson, Jaxon and Jaxson are all better than Robert or Chris? How are future teachers going to tell them apart?

It’s not too late in 2018 to show some imagination or respect for the classic names like Robert and Chris, although I suppose Jaxon, Jackson and Jaxson are better than George Foreman, who named all five of his sons George. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.