My Maine View: Maine Needs a Runoff Election Law

If you drive around Maine you have seen the bumper stickers. Sixty-one percent they say. These refer to the fact that current Governor Paul LePage received less than thirty nine percent of the vote when he claimed the Governor’s chair in 2010. In the Bangor Daily and other papers in Maine you can currently read all the columns speculating that Elliott Cutler, should he get run again in 2014, will be Paul LePage’s best friend. Somewhere there is a political cartoonist drawing Paul LePage sending an anonymous campaign contribution to the Cutler campaign.

The problem did not begin with Governor LePage however. It has been a consistent issue in Maine for at least the last twenty years. When Jim Longley was elected as the nation’s first Independent Governor back in the mid seventies it opened up the floodgates, not just for Angus King, but for the consistent presence of third party candidates to appear on the ballot. With the exception of Angus King’s reelection in 1998, which he won with over fifty-eight percent of the vote, no candidate has won the Governor’s race in the last twenty years with half the vote.

Republicans, despite placing Governor LePage in the chair in 2010 and potentially 2014, should be in favor of a runoff system as well. John Baldacci won two terms as Governor without carrying fifty percent of the vote. As galling as Governor LePage’s victory was to Democrats one should consider the year 2006 for Republicans. Baldacci won just thirty eight percent of the vote in a reelection effort. Chandler Woodcock on the Republican side came in with thirty and Barbara Merrill collected twenty one percent as an Independent.

As bad as the left may feel about LePage he was an unknown. Baldacci after serving four years, and assumingly being well known by the electorate, only collected thirty eight percent of the vote. He collected a lower percentage of votes in 2006 than did LePage in 2010. That is hardly a ringing endorsement. No one, save the person who gets elected this way, should be happy with this system.

So where does that leave us? Right where we have been. We have our current Governor who can win an election with just under forty percent of the vote but only if Cutler and a Democrat ( Pingree, Michaud ) split the vote. Which could very well happen.

While this is good news for the Governor now, and was for John Baldacci in 2006, it is not good news for the State of Maine. In order to govern well and have the people behind them a candidate should win fifty percent of the vote. We can easily do this. Other states employ runoff elections and Maine can too. In an election in which no one gets half the votes we just take the top two candidates and have them run against each other a couple of weeks later.

Who would be against this? Well, inevitably Republicans would be today as they correctly see the current system as the only way LePage can win reelection. Their argument is legitimate, after all Governor Baldacci won reelection in the same way LePage will be trying to.

Taking 2014 away however, make the rule change effective with the 2018 election and this seems like an easy answer. I suppose potential Independent candidates could say it lessens the amount of power they have over an election cycle. I think it could be the reverse. If after the first round of elections an Independent candidate has lost they could easily be the difference maker by choosing who to ask their backers to vote for in the runoff. Another possible outcome of a runoff system is that we might, and it is only a might, see cleaner, less nasty elections. If one is going to be coming hat in hand for support after an election for the supporters of an opponent it might not be a good idea to play dirty in the first round.

If we want our Governor’s to succeed, to have a mandate from the people, to make an attempt to reduce some of the divisiveness that stood and still stands after each election creating a runoff system is a sound answer whose time has come.