Here’s why Maine’s new voting system could spell doom for Susan Collins
Susan Collins photo by Keith Mellnick

Maine's new ranked-choice voting system could spell uncertainty for Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) as she battles for her fifth term. Her opponent is Democrat Sara Gideon.


The contest on Tuesday is likely to be the first time that Maine will count second choices in a Senate race using a ranked-choice voting system that has been in place since 2018, The New York Times reported. The new system allows the voting public to list a second candidate and counts those preferences as votes if no one reaches 50 percent when the first-choice votes are tabulated. Collins' re-election bid could be in trouble because she has consistently drawn below 50 percent in public polls. Gideon has also had the same fate, making this race too close to discern at this time.

“It’s obviously a very close race, but I feel that momentum is breaking my way,” Collins said last week. “My goal is to get 50 percent on Election Day, and ranked-choice voting would not come into play. So that’s what I hope.”

Collins was the only Republican to break the GOP-led confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court, but it may not be enough to persuade voters to stick with her for another term - or invest in her for the first time.

“It’s hard to buck your party, and I do give her credit for that,” said Lara Rosen, 39, who was bundled in her car with a cup of haddock chowder and her 5-year-old son, Isaac Rosen-Murray, to support Gideon. “It’s not enough. It’s not the only thing that I care about.”

The ranked choice voting system is used in Australia and Ireland, as well as the Academy Awards to decide the winners, but which star in this race will shine through?

“It’s not as simple as you might think — there isn’t a clear policy flow from the minor-party candidates to the majority candidates,” said Daniel M. Shea, a government professor at Colby College and the lead researcher on the college’s polling of the Senate race.

“There are a lot of people who have made up their mind, some of whom maybe made up their minds 10 months ago, and some of whom came to that place in the last two months,” Gideon said. “I do think that there are some people out there who still are not sure of what to do. They think about the balance of the presidential election and the Senate, and they struggle to understand exactly who is going to do what or who has done what.”

The opponents spent their last days before Nov. 3 on the campaign trail with extremely different messages to their supporters. Gideon's messaging included the "vote them out" sentiment in regard to Democrats taking back the White House and securing the Senate by ousting President Donald J. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Collins, on the other hand, spent the remainder of her time highlighting the financial support she had given small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, which she spearheaded.