Advocates Intensify Push for Ranked-Choice Voting in Maryland

Del. Eric Luedtke is House sponsor of a bill that would bring ranked-choice voting to Montgomery County elections.

The push to bring ranked-choice voting to Maryland is gaining momentum.

On Saturday, election reform advocates will gather in Silver Spring to build support for the concept. On Monday night, the Montgomery County delegation to the House of Delegates will be considering legislation to create the option to bring RCV to elections for county offices.

RCV enables voters to rank their choices among the candidates in an election. It is designed, among other things, to give more exposure to third-party and unaffiliated candidates and to ensure that the ultimate winner is the choice of a majority of the voters – even if he or she is not, necessarily, the first choice of the majority. If no candidate gets a majority in the first round of vote-counting, voters’ secondary choices are considered in the next round, and so on, until a winner emerges with the majority of votes.

Ranked-choice voting is not yet widely in use in the U.S., but it is becoming more common. In Maryland, Takoma Park has used it for municipal elections in the last few election cycles.

Most prominently, RCV has been adopted for federal elections in Maine – and is already generating controversy. In the Pine Tree State’s 2nd congressional district, incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) finished with the most votes when the ballots were initially counted last month but fell short of 50 percent in a four-way race. When voters’ subsequent preferences were tallied, he wound up losing to the Democratic nominee, state Rep. Jared Golden.

Poliquin sued to invalidate the state’s ranked-choice voting law, claiming that it’s unconstitutional and that his 1st Amendment rights had been violated. But a federal judge appointed by President Trump ruled against Poliquin this week, saying all his arguments fell short.

“There is no dispute that the RCV Act—itself the product of a citizens’ initiative involving a great deal of first amendment expression—was motivated by a desire to enable third-party and non-party candidates to participate in the political process, and to enable their supporters to express support, without producing the spoiler effect,” U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker wrote. “In this way, the RCV Act actually encourages First Amendment expression, without discriminating against any voter based on viewpoint, faction or other invalid criteria. Moreover, a search for what exactly the burden is that Plaintiffs want lifted is not a fruitful exercise.”

Coincidentally, James G. Gimpel, a University of Maryland political scientist, was a paid consultant to the Poliquin case, testifying in favor of his lawsuit in court.

The community meeting on RCV is taking place Saturday from 8:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Silver Spring Civic Building,1 Veterans Place in Silver Spring.

Speakers include the sponsors of the state legislation currently being considered by the Montgomery County legislative delegation,  Del. Eric Luedtke (D) and Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D), County Councilman Hans Riemer, and Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart and Councilman Jarett Smith.

The legislation will be one of several bills heard when the delegation holds a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday at the 3rd Floor Hearing Room, Stella Werner Council Office Bldg., 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville.

Similar legislation made it out of the delegation but stalled in a House committee earlier this year.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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