- The Maine Wire - https://www.themainewire.com -

Will Governor Mills sign or veto bill that expands RCV to presidential elections?

The Maine Legislature reconvened on Monday to consider four bond proposals that failed to garner enough votes for passage in the first session. Three of the four bond proposals received little support from Republican lawmakers and ultimately failed in both chambers. In response, Senate President Troy Jackson decided to run LD 1083 towards the end of the special session, a bill that would implement ranked-choice voting for presidential primary and general elections in Maine.

For context, the bill had already been passed in the Maine House of Representatives before the legislature adjourned in June and only needed to be enacted in the Senate for final passage. Earlier in the day, President Jackson’s office indicated the bill would not be considered during the special session. However, LD 1083 was put forward in a last-ditch effort to ensure it applies to the March primary election, and it passed in the Senate with a 20-12 vote

The bill was approved mostly along party lines. However, Sen. Bill Diamond, a Democrat and former Secretary of State, broke ranks to vote against LD 1083.

“The agreement was that we were just going to consider the bonds on Monday,” Sen. Diamond told The Maine Wire. “I checked with the governor and no deals were made to run the bill. The Secretary of State’s Office testified with concerns about using ranked-choice voting for presidential primaries and there was no money allocated with the bill when it was passed. It’s my understanding that they’ll be looking for funding next January.”

The bill now sits on Governor Janet Mills’ desk for her consideration.

Some opponents of the bill will surely claim that it is unconstitutional. However, Article II of the United States Constitution allows state legislature to determine the manner in which presidential electors are chosen. Therefore, it appears LD 1083 does not violate the U.S. Constitution. Nonetheless, there are other problems with the voting system itself (as well as logistical challenges surrounding its application to presidential elections) that deserve scrutiny.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s most recent report, which examined 96 ranked-choice voting races from around the country, found the voting system produces a true majority winner less than 39 percent of the time. This is because, on average, 11 percent of ranked-choice voting ballots are exhausted by the final round of tabulation; it is as if these voters did not show up to vote on Election Day. In extreme circumstances, the percentage of exhausted ballots can be as high as 54 percent of the total votes cast.

While some might argue that voters intend for their ballots to be exhausted, research shows minority voters and voters with less education tend to rank fewer candidates, thereby reducing the influence of their vote. In other words, these voters are further disenfranchised by ranked-choice voting because their ballots have a higher probability of being eliminated before a winner is declared. 

In addition, Maine’s split-vote method for choosing electors means the state would need to conduct three separate ranked-choice tabulations for presidential elections; one in each congressional district and a statewide tabulation. This would undoubtedly create even more confusion surrounding the voting system and the Electoral College altogether. Presidential candidates and the nation could potentially need to wait several days or a week or more to find out which presidential electors received the most votes.

It should be noted that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap estimates the cost to implement ranked-choice voting in the March presidential primary would be approximately $100,000. As mentioned earlier, these funds would likely need to be appropriated by the legislature when they return to Augusta for the second session. This sum is not insignificant, especially since the Secretary of State’s office routinely uses similar fiscal notes to quell measures that would actually improve Maine elections and increase transparency. 

Besides, Democratic National Committee rules require candidates to receive 15 percent of the vote or more to receive delegates in presidential primaries. However, the Secretary of State’s ranked-choice voting algorithm does not conform with the party’s rules and will continue to eliminate candidates until one receives a majority of the remaining votes. 

Therefore, if Governor Mills signs LD 1083, the Democratic Party would be responsible for using a different algorithm to fit their National Committee criteria and would have to perform their own analysis to determine the proportionality of delegates. In other words, Maine’s ranked-choice voting model does not conform to the Democratic National Committee rules. The Secretary of State’s Office has said a plurality election makes more sense for the presidential primaries if political parties retain their percentage thresholds and called the additional rounds of counting “unnecessary.”

Moreover, the vendor software we use for ballot layout can limit the number of rankings a voter can make to no fewer than six candidates. While the amount of rankings a voter can make could be limited to this number, all candidates would still appear on the ballot.

The governor is still undecided if she’ll sign or veto LD 1083. However, Lindsay Crete, the governor’s spokeswoman, indicated that Governor Mills wanted the legislature to focus exclusively on her bond proposals during the special session. 

Governor Mills has 10 days (excluding Sundays) from Monday, August 26, to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without her signature. If you’d like to urge the governor to veto LD 1083, you can write her a comment here or call 207-287-3531. If you’d like to help end the use of ranked-choice voting in Maine, click here and fill out the form to receive updates about how you can get involved.

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that vendor software, not the Secretary of State at his or her own discretion, can limit the number of rankings a voter makes on a ranked-choice ballot. Even with limited rankings, all candidates running in the election would still appear on the ballot.