What he did
As Campaign Manager for The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, Kyle Bailey organized a grassroots movement to undertake ballot initiatives and twice win statewide approval for Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), overcoming legislative and court challenges. RCV was successfully used in the 2018 midterm elections. In 2020, Maine will become the first state to use RCV for a Presidential election.
Kyle Bailey spent the past five years leading a volunteer effort to give Maine’s voters more choice in who they elect as their representatives. Starting in 2014, as Campaign Manager for The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, a grassroots group of Maine citizens, Bailey organized the collection of more than 73,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot to approve ranked choice voting (RCV) for all Maine elections. He then led the campaign to get it passed in the November 2016 general election.
After witnessing and working on a series of political campaigns that had more than two candidates, Bailey had become increasingly disenchanted with the electoral system. Maine has a long history of independent candidates, with races sometimes involving as many as five candidates. In nine out of the eleven gubernatorial elections prior to 2018, the winning candidate did not have a majority, with five of those governors receiving less than 40% of the vote.
Bailey grew concerned that his support for his preferred candidate was a wasted vote in a system better suited to supporting the two-party duopoly of the Republican and Democratic parties. Even worse, he feared that his vote and the votes of others for less popular candidates might help elect the candidate he liked least. He came to appreciate RCV as a viable alternative because it gives voters a greater voice and more choice. RCV requires the winning candidate to win 50% of the vote, and the method by which a candidate achieves that threshold – via the ranked choice vote – encourages voters to choose the candidate they most admire rather than the one they dislike or fear the least.
Ranked Choice Voting is all “about demanding a system that works for us, one where our voices are heard. We have a level playing field. We have fair choices in elections and where candidates are elected not to just represent narrow factions of the electorate, but they’re accountable to a majority of voters, and they’re accountable to go to work to solve problems and represent all the people, not just some of the people.”
Others in Maine felt the same way, as Bailey soon learned after the campaign for RCV. The campaign tapped citizens’ frustration with the voting system, which was better suited for a traditional two-party electoral process. A movement that began with a few energetic and committed people soon grew to more than 1000 volunteers. Their efforts garnered broad support from across the political spectrum and led to the adoption of RCV for state elections, including all primary and general elections for Maine’s governor, state legislature, and federal congressional offices. The referendum passed with the second-greatest number of votes in Maine’s history of ballot initiatives, dating back to 1908.
“Delay and Repeal” and “the People’s Veto”
Despite this resounding success, the Ranked Choice Voting Act, as the 2016 referendum was called, still had one unforeseen but significant hurdle to overcome. On May 23 following the November election, the Maine Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion – meaning a non-binding opinion – that ranked choice voting violated the state’s constitution. In response, the state legislature voted in a special session in October 2017 to delay the implementation of RCV until 2021. If the state failed to amend its constitution by then to address the Court’s concerns, the legislation stated, the RCV Act would be automatically repealed.
Looking back, Bailey acknowledged that he had erred in thinking that winning the referendum would be the most challenging part of his job. The hardest part, in his view, was defending their victory. Immediately following passage of the new legislation, he rebooted the campaign to launch what’s known in Maine as a People’s Veto. In Maine, citizens of the state can petition to temporarily block implementation of a state law if enough signatures are collected. If successful, the people then vote on a new ballot question at the next election on whether to block the law permanently.
With a volunteer cohort that grew to nearly 2000, the campaign collected 77,305 signatures in 88 days during the state’s harsh winter months. On March 5, 2018, Maine’s Secretary of State ruled that more than 10,000 signatures were invalid, but he confirmed that still left enough signatures for the veto to move forward.
One more hurdle remained. The Maine senate raised questions about the legality of the People’s Veto and the Secretary’s authority to follow through on its implementation. In a ruling on April 16, the Maine Superior Court declared in a unanimous decision that RCV was indeed the law, and it threw out the questions regarding the Secretary’s authority to administer it. Bailey’s campaign had again succeeded – RCV would be used for the first time in the June 2018 primary, and Maine voters would get to choose whether to reject or accept the legislature’s delay-and-repeal law.
Maine’s voters proved consistent, rejecting the delay-and-repeal law by 54% to 46%. In reversing the legislation, this second chance to support RCV won by an even wider margin than it had the first time around. Through the efforts of Bailey and the Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting, Maine had become a leader of a national movement.
Over a year later, in August 2019, Maine enacted legislation to adopt RCV for the 2020 presidential primaries and general election, although because Maine’s Democratic governor chose not to sign the legislation, the law won’t become effective until after the March primary. RCV will be used in at least three state democratic primaries next year (Kansas, Alaska and Hawaii) and it was approved this past November in New York City for future city elections.
The diversity and breadth of grassroots volunteer support was key to the success of the ‘People’s Veto’, which was undertaken while simultaneously fending off Senate Republican-led litigation to block implementation of the RCV law. Composed of citizens from all parts of the state, all political persuasions, races and sexual orientation, the volunteer base included critical expertise — lawyers, local government officials, and people from the media — who guided the Committee’s engagement with the courts, reporters, and the legislature.
Bailey says that “RCV is not a silver bullet, but it’s something …that Americans can do everywhere to give more choice and more voice to voters and help bring reform to a system that badly needs it.”
Kyle Bailey, interview with Michael Deal, Oct 24, 2019
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Mario Moretto, “Maine Lawmakers Seek to End Strategic Voting, ‘Spoilers’ with Petition for Ranked-Choice Voting”, Bangor Daily News, Oct 27, 2014, http://bangordailynews.com/2014/10/27/politics/elections/maine-lawmakers-seek-to-end-strategic-voting-spoilers-with-petition-for-ranked-choice-voting, accessed Nov 10, 2019
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Press Release, “Ranked-choice voting people’s veto effort found valid with 66,687 signatures”, Maine Dept. of the Secretary of State, Mar 5, 2018, https://www.maine.gov/sos/news/2018/rankchoicesigs.html, accessed Jan 3, 2020
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