Portland Charter Commission election shows the error of the preferential vote
By Matthew Gagnon Steve DiMillo is 60 years old and has lived in Portland his entire life. He is the highly visible manager of the iconic DiMillo’s on the Water restaurant in Portland, a family business well known to locals and visitors to the city.
By Matthieu Gagnon
Steve DiMillo is 60 years old and has lived in Portland his entire life. He is the highly visible manager of the iconic DiMillo’s on the Water restaurant in Portland, a family business well known to locals and visitors to the city.
DiMillo made the decision earlier this year to run for general seat on the Portland Charter Commission, a body created every 10 years to “review and recommend amendments to the City of Portland charter.”
He decided to sit on the commission because he wanted to represent the ordinary citizens of Portland, telling the Portland Press Herald that he “was going to listen to everyone’s ideas.”
I spoke with DiMillo in May, and he told me he was also concerned that there wasn’t a lot of diversity of thought in the candidate arena. “I decided to run because I don’t like the direction that [other candidates] want to take this thing, ”he said.
Despite the fact that the committee is rather low-key and reasonably apolitical, the campaign for the seats has become intensely political and very negative. This was mainly thanks to the city’s far-left interest groups who had sent letters attacking DiMillo and three other candidates.
“They said I was a longtime Republican,” he told me, referring to the leaflets, “I’ve been a Republican since 2008, just so I could support my friend Charlie Summers in a primary. I am a freelance, I am halfway, everyone is my client.
Interestingly enough, it’s not just DiMillo’s slightly center-right political brand that has offended these interest groups. They also targeted decidedly left-wing candidates deemed insufficiently progressive.
Democrat Marpheen Chann, civil rights activist and educator on the Holocaust and at the Maine Human Rights Center, was one of those targeted and was singled out for an alleged refusal to using the commission to “hold the police accountable” among other issues.
On Tuesday, voters went to the polls to make their decision. As the votes were counted, DiMillo learned that despite all the negative attacks, he had secured enough votes to finish in second place in the first round, with 21.1 percent of the vote, just slightly behind the. first place Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef, a progressive Democrat who won 22.4% of the vote.
There was only one problem: it was a preferential vote election.
The original first four, Sheikh-Yousef, DiMillo, Chann and Ben Grant were an interesting bunch of people who I think is an accurate representation of what the city of Portland really is.
Sheikh-Yousef is a community organizer and local Black Lives Matter activist, DiMillo is a moderately right-wing business owner, Chann is a fairly left-wing activist, and Ben Grant is a former president of the Democratic Party of Maine. Sounds like the right mix to me.
And yet, in the end, DiMillo and Grant lost their seats on the commission. After the ranking vote tabulations were done, the final winners of the field seats were Sheikh-Yousef and Chann, along with two very progressive candidates, Catherine Buxton and Patricia Washburn.
Washburn, a far-left activist who said she was running for the charter commission “to advance fairness and tackle systemic racism in the city charter,” received just 342 votes – 4.2% – in the initial ranking, and yet ended up “winning” a seat at the end.
On top of that, the turnout in that election was a pathetic 14 percent of registered voters. So a seat on a powerful committee will go to someone who won 4.2% of the vote, out of just 14% of eligible voters.
This is insane.
In the short time that Maine used the preferential vote, all the arguments in favor of its adoption have been proven false.
Its supporters have said the system will produce majority winners, which we now know to be a lie. Our policy was supposed to get sweeter and sweeter, but it is more bitter than ever. Supporters have argued that it will not benefit one party over another, and yet we have seen that he has universally empowered the Liberal candidates in Maine. And that was supposed to increase voter turnout, yet, well, 14% is all I have to say on that notion.
Regardless of how you analyze ranked voting, it has failed to deliver what it was supposed to do while rewarding candidates with virtually no support and empowering extreme political activists and partisans to detriment of true representations of the voting public. There couldn’t be a worse way to run an election.
Gagnon of Yarmouth is the CEO of the Maine Policy Institute, a Portland-based free market policy think tank. A native of Hampden, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, DC