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Maine Lawmaker Proposes Run-Off Elections - and Not Just for Governor
03/19/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

For almost 20 years, Maine's governors have won their first term elections with less than 50 percent of the vote. Now a legislative panel is looking at proposals that could require run-off elections to ensure that the winner has the support of more than half of the voters casting ballots. As A.J. Higgins reports, one bill under consideration would affect not only the race for governor, but also candidates for the House and Senate.

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Maine Lawmaker Proposes Run-Off Elections - and No
Originally Aired: 3/19/2013 5:30 PM

Earlier this week, the Legislature's State and Local Government Committee took up a bill that would deny Gov. Paul LePage his $26,000-a-year pension unless he chooses to run and win a second term, Now, independent state Rep. Joseph Brooks, of Winterport, wants Maine voters to consider legislation that could have denied LePage a victory two years ago, when he won election with only 39 percent of the vote. Brooks wants 50 percent plus 1 for a majority.

He says he has no doubt as to how things would have worked out in 2010 if his bill had been the law. "Frankly, I think the way the election was going at that point in time, it would have been the independent, Eliot Cutler," Brooks says.

It's been about two months since Brooks and several other independent lawmakers had a heated private meeting with LePage. Brooks says it ended when the governor stormed out of the room after calling legislators idiots for suggesting he back off on some tax cuts.

But when it comes to margins of victory, LePage is not alone.  Democratic Gov. John Baldacci won with 38 percent of the vote.  Independent Gov. Angus King got 35 percent, and Brooks says Mainers need a governor who has won with a clear mandate.

In addition to the governor's race, Brooks would also extend the majority requirement to members of the House and Senate. Under Brooks' bill, in each of the three races, the two candidates receiving the largest number of votes would face each other in a run-off. Then the candidate receiving more than half of the total votes casts would be declared the winner.

"Even though it may cost a little more money, I say a run-off election is quite appropriate rather than having whomever gets the largest number of votes," Brooks says. "I would love to see that person truly represent the district, the state, the community - however you want to define it - as having 50 percent of that vote."

As a constitutional amendment, the bill would have to be approved with a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate before it could be placed on the November ballot for voters consideration. But Rep. Catherine Nadeau, a Winslow Democrat, is concerned about the number of voters who would first cast ballots in a general election, and those who would participate in a run-off election.

Rep. Catherine Nadeau: "If you have a run-off election, your voter turnout is going to be low, 'cause they've already come out for your big elections, so your next election is going to be lower, so the chances of you reaching that 50 percent with a run-off election - I just wondered if you had given that any thought?"

Rep. Joseph Brooks: "I'm not absolutely certain how to answer your question. I can answer it flippantly, but I'm opposed to that. You're going to achieve 50 percent no matter how many people turn out."

The majority vote bill was also supported by independent Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland, who thinks the extra expense of a run-off election would be worth the result. But Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn says lawmakers would have to come up with the money.

"To do all hand-count ballots would be a little bit less than a single election for us, which is $125,000," Flynn said. "The difference is, that's not budgeted for - we can't budget for a special election that may or may not occur, so we would come back to the Legislature at that time and say we need an additional appropriation, because these days we don't have an extra $125,000 hanging around."

Members of the State and Local Government Committee hope to review the bill further next week. 



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