Secretary of State explains ranked choice voting, write-in candidates

Maine’s Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap explains ranked choice voting and write-in candidates; sees uptick in absentee ballots over 2016 election.
Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 7:26 PM EDT
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As you prepare to cast your ballot, are you certain you’re completing the form correctly? Kathy McCarty speaks with Maine’s Secretary of State who clarifies the process.

Ranked choice voting continues to be a hot topic for Mainers, as Election Day nears. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap says the process is designed to create a consensus, with the winning candidate receiving a majority of votes. For those uncertain how the system works, Dunlap offers these tips.

“If you want to vote for just one candidate - you take like a five-way race like we have for president, if you want to vote for one of the candidates with your first through fifth choices, you can do that too. Now bearing in mind that only counts once, you know, it - it doesn’t count five times. So if your candidate - and you’ve selected your first pick - makes it through to the final round, then your vote follows them. So if they’re eliminated at any point, then your vote is - is exhausted with their elimination,” says Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

If you choose to rank candidates, start with whom you favor to win, followed by a second choice, and so on.

The only way your - your ballot is invalidated - truly invalid if you give every one of those five candidates a first-place vote. Then we can’t define what your intentions are, so it’s not a valid vote, it’s an over-vote. The voter controls their vote, and if they, you know, if they want to rank, they can. And if they don’t want to, they don’t have to," he says.

Dunlap says fears of ballot tampering are unfounded, because of the chain of custody and amount of scrutiny along the way. The write-in process has changed; you can’t just write in a random person and have it count.

“It used to be that you could write in anybody, you know, for any office. So that was changed by the Legislature some years ago that you had to register as a write-in with the Secretary of State not less than 45 days before the election. It was changed again to 60 days. So you have to file a form with the Secretary of State if you want to run a write-in campaign and have your vote be tabulated. This is in the law,” says Dunlap.

KM - Though Election Day is still over three weeks away, more than a quarter million absentee ballots have already been returned.

Dunlap says, “In the entire election for 2016, we processed about 250,000 absentee ballots. As of yesterday, we’re at nearly 340,000 applications being treated with. The city of Portland mailed out 27,000 absentee ballots. So, you know, it’s just record numbers. And we expected that.”

Dunlap says they predicted seeing between 400,000 and 600,000 absentee ballots this election, and at the rate they’re going, he says they’re on track to be in that range.

For more information on ranked choice voting and write-in candidates, visit

Information on Maine elections, including Declared Write-In Candidates, can be found here:

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