Maine voters narrowly passed Question 5, the Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) initiative, last November, and the proposal has encountered turbulence since gaining voter approval. Maine House Republicans, along with the Maine Heritage Policy Center, filed a joint brief with Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court earlier this year contending the constitutionality of RCV. The Republican-led Senate also submitted a “solemn occasion” request calling for a judgment from the high court on the validity of the measure.
Many Democrats criticized Question 5 as well. Attorney General Janet Mills and Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap outlined their concerns with RCV before the November vote, and filed briefs with the Supreme Judicial Court stating Maine’s constitution “must be amended before such fundamental changes in Maine’s electoral process can occur.”
The result was a unanimous May 23 opinion by the court siding with opponents of RCV in a 44-page decision that determined the language of the proposal violates the Maine Constitution. The document clearly outlines an office is won after a candidate receives a plurality of votes. Because the RCV model requires a majority rather than a plurality, the high court shot it down.
Almost immediately after the court’s decision, officials on both sides of the aisle submitted combating legislation regarding the future of RCV in Maine. Instead of siding with the court, Democrats backed a bill offered by Sen. Catherine Breen, D-Falmouth, that seeks to modify Article IV of the Maine Constitution by allowing the language of the referendum to overwrite state law.
This initiative, however, sets a terrifying precedent that constitutional protections can be undone by citizens’ referendums despite requiring just a handful of signatures to appear on the ballot. Constitutional protections cannot be undone simply by referendum, nor can our entire electoral process, and to think the “voters will” overrides our state’s guiding document is asinine at best.
Additionally, amending the constitution would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, followed by a statewide vote. Passage through this process is much more difficult than a referendum precisely because our constitution is intended to protect individual rights and the internal modes of government. They can’t be sold to the big money campaigns that pump millions of dollars into Maine’s elections, exactly like RCV proponents did in November.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason has charted a different course, submitting LD 1625 after review of the high court’s advisory opinion. The bill would repeal Question 5 entirely and secure Maine’s current election processes. The measure has broad bipartisan support with five Republican and Democratic co-sponsors.
“As legislators, it is our job to draft laws that comply with our constitution; we don’t seek to amend our constitution to accommodate a new law,” Sen. Mason said in a press release.
“Maine’s highest court has sent a clear message that the ranked-choice voting referendum passed last November is in direct violation of the Constitution of Maine. It’s now our job to fix this problem before serious legal issues arise.”
Given the composition of the Maine Legislature, Democrats have no legitimate hope of RCV becoming state law.