Court rules that Maine GOP-backed referendum on presidential ranked-choice voting will appear on ballot

On August 24, a Maine Superior Court ruled that voters will decide a veto referendum on a law that established ranked-choice voting (RCV) for presidential primaries and general elections. Maine was slated to use RCV for the presidential election on November 3, 2020. Since the veto referendum qualified for the ballot, however, the law is suspended until voters decide to either uphold or repeal it. Therefore, RCV will not be used to elect the president in Maine this year.

The Superior Court’s ruling came after Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) determined that not enough signatures were valid to place the referendum on the ballot. Judge Thomas McKeon disagreed with Dunlap’s interpretation of a constitutional provision, which states that circulators’ names must appear on voter registration rolls. Dunlap invalidated 988 signatures from two circulators, also known as signature gatherers, who were not registered to vote while collecting signatures. However, the two circulators were registered to vote when signatures were submitted to the state for review. According to Judge McKeon, a circulator being registered at the time of signature submission, rather than while collecting signatures, was sufficient to meet the constitutional requirement. Dunlap could appeal the court’s decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

In 2019, the Maine State Legislature passed the bill that expanded RCV to presidential elections. Gov. Janet Mills (D) held LD 1083 until 2020. By holding the bill until the next legislative session, LD 1083 did not go into effect until after the state’s presidential primary on March 3, 2020.

The Maine Republican Party is backing the veto referendum campaign, which is known as Repeal RCV. Through August 18, Repeal RCV had raised $706,410, including $639,430 from the Maine GOP and $50,000 from Gary Bahre and Robert Bahre. Demi Kouzounas, chairperson of the state GOP, is also chairperson of Repeal RCV.

The veto referendum would be the third RCV ballot measure in Maine since 2016. Voters approved Question 5, which established a first-in-the-nation statewide system of RCV, in 2016. In 2017, the legislature passed a bill that was written to postpone and repeal RCV unless the legislature referred and voters approved a constitutional amendment. The Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting, which sponsored Question 5, launched a veto referendum campaign to overturn LD 1646. On the ballot as Question 1, the veto referendum was approved with 53.9 percent of the vote. Therefore, LD 1646 was repealed and RCV remained in effect, except for general elections for state legislative and executive offices. The Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting is again seeking to preserve RCV and launched a PAC, which received $52,570 through August 18, to oppose this year’s referendum.

At the election on November 6, 2018, ranked-choice voting (RCV) was used for the first time in a general election. Both Sen. Angus King (I) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) won their respective seats without the need for ranked-choice tabulations. In Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, the initial vote count showed that incumbent Bruce Poliquin (R) had received 46.3 percent of the vote and challenger Jared Golden (D) received 45.6 percent of the vote. Independents received 8.1 percent of the vote. On November 15, 2018, Dunlap announced that after the lowest vote-getters were eliminated and votes were reallocated, incumbent Rep. Poliquin received 49.4 percent of the vote and challenger Golden received 50.6 percent of the vote. The race was the first in U.S. history where ranked-choice voting was used to decide a congressional election.

In November, voters in Alaska and Massachusetts will decide ballot measures to adopt RCV as well. Voters in Arkansas could also vote on a RCV measure, pending a judicial ruling.

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