Judge clears way for ranked choice voting in Maine

A decision by the Maine Supreme Court has cleared the way for ranked choice voting to be used for the November presidential ballots. The state will be the first and only in the country to use the voting method, which reformers have long advocated for.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Ballots are recounted in Maine's 2nd Congressional District in Augusta, Maine, on Dec. 6, 2018. This year, voters in Maine will be using ranked choice voting for the first time ever.

Ranked choice voting will be used for the first time in a presidential race in the United States under a ruling Tuesday by the Maine Supreme Court, which concluded a Republican Party-led petition drive intended to prevent its use came up short.

The Supreme Judicial Court concluded the Maine Republican Party failed to reach the threshold of signatures needed for a “People’s Veto” referendum aimed at rejecting a state law that expands ranked choice voting to the presidential election.

“This is a powerful moment for ranked choice voting supporters: Voters will, for the first time, use ranked choice voting to elect the highest office in the country,” said Rob Richie, president and CEO of FairVote, which advocates for the voting reform.

The court’s decision, just six weeks before the election, was issued after the state already began printing ballots using a grid-style for ranked elections.

“As we have already printed the ballots, due to the federal deadlines we must meet to provide ballots for overseas and military voters, this decision comes as a great relief and avoids the complications, confusion, and expense that would have arisen from reprinting and reissuing ballots,” said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

Under the voting system, voters are allowed to rank all candidates on the ballot. If no one wins a majority of first-place votes, then there are additional tabulations, aided by computers, in which last-place finishers are eliminated and votes reallocated based on those supporters’ second-place choices. Transporting the ballots to Augusta for additional tabulations delays results for about a week.

In Maine, the presidential ballot will feature five names, including Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Ranked voting will also be used in U.S. House races and the closely watched U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Susan Collins and Democrat Sara Gideon, currently the Maine House speaker.

The voting system adds another wrinkle to the presidential contest in Maine, which – as one of two states that divide electoral votes – already does things differently.

In the last presidential election, Democrat Hillary Clinton won three electoral votes while Trump won one electoral vote in the 2nd Congressional District, underscoring political divisions between the state’s liberal, urban south, and conservative north.

The ranked choice voting system, approved by Maine voters in 2016, has become a partisan issue in the state, where Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin was ousted in 2018 despite collecting the most first-place votes.

Supporters say the ranked choice voting system eliminates the impact of so-called “spoiler candidates” and produces a majority winner. Critics say it’s unnecessarily complicated and disenfranchises voters who don’t understand it.

The constitutionality of the voting system has been twice upheld by a federal judge in Maine. However, ranked voting is not used in the governor’s race or legislative contests because it runs afoul of the Maine Constitution.

The fast-paced, 11th-hour legal machinations resolved Tuesday followed the secretary of state’s rejection of the referendum, ruling the GOP fell short of the needed level of 67,067 signatures of registered voters to force a referendum. The Maine GOP had appealed that decision and a state judge reinstated enough signatures to surpass the minimum by 22 signatures.

The issue before the state Supreme Court focused on a narrow question of whether signature gatherers must be registered to vote in the town where they are circulating petitions at the time they started.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that the requirements don’t violate First Amendment rights of signature gatherers. That conclusion invalidated 988 signatures, delivering a defeat to the GOP.

But the Maine GOP wasn’t yet conceding on Tuesday. The party is “exploring further options for review by the federal courts to protect Maine voters’ rights to be heard,” its chair, Demi Kouzounas, said.

Anna Kellar, executive director for The League of Women Voters, which supports the voting reform, said the court’s decision is a victory for “every Mainer who sat around kitchen tables and in basements years ago, wondering how we could ensure more votes would be heard in our elections.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Judge clears way for ranked choice voting in Maine
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today