Inside Augusta

Friday is the deadline for Governor Mills’ decision on LD 1083

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Governor Janet Mills has until the end of the day Friday to decide on the fate of LD 1083, a bill that expands the use of ranked-choice voting in Maine to presidential elections. The bill was passed during the special session held on August 26.

The governor can sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without her signature. A veto on LD 1083 would effectively kill it – Republicans in Maine generally do not support ranked-choice voting, and its unlikely proponents of the bill could convince two-thirds of both chambers of the legislature to override her veto.

There’s also the possibility that Governor Mills holds the bill until the legislature reconvenes for the second session, though this move likely means the measure couldn’t be implemented in time for the 2020 Democratic primary election.

Mills has been anything but supportive of the bill in her public statements since the Senate enacted the legislation during the special session. Mills signaled at the time that she wanted lawmakers to consider only her bonds, however Senate President Troy Jackson held a final enactment vote on the bill and the motion prevailed 20-12. Interestingly, the only lawmaker to break ranks in the mostly party-line vote was Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond, the former Maine secretary of state.

“I’m reading the bill carefully (to) see how it impacts not only the primary but the general election of electors for president, because there is a line in there about how it applies to he election of electors,” Mills told Maine Public on August 30. “The six other states that are apparently looking at ranked-choice voting are all caucus states. I am not yet aware of any other state looking at it for a primary, a presidential primary.”

The Press Herald on Thursday reported Mills was “wrestling with her decision for several reasons” including how the law would apply to both presidential primary and general elections.

Using ranked-choice voting for presidential primaries is impractical for many reasons. Republicans have shown no interest in using the system to select any of their candidates (let alone presidential candidates) and Democratic National Committee rules in effect make the system pointless.

Under DNC rules, delegates are distributed proportionally to all candidates who receive more than 15 percent of the vote, making an instant runoff tabulation that determines a “majority” winner utterly fruitless.

In his Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram column published September 1, columnist Bill Nemitz offered humorous criticism of the system’s application to presidential primaries and the confusion it will create for Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, noting its enactment could result in lawsuits aimed at his office.

“Maine is about to overlay ranked-choice voting onto an election already designed to rank the finishers.

But wait, there’s more. According to Alex Stack, spokesman for the Maine Democratic Party, the rules will likely require that lower-end candidates be eliminated only after there’s no mathematical chance for them to amass 15 percent of the vote.

That, in effect, turns the whole process upside-down: Rather than end when a ‘winner’ passes 50 percent of the total vote, the count could continue until anyone who might amass 15 percent either does so or is eliminated.

Come to think of it, it’s even possible that a 50 percent majority – the Holy Grail of ranked-choice voting – won’t be achieved by anyone because multiple candidates with 15 percent or more will stay in the game until the end.

Are we having fun yet?”

Governor Mills also raised concerns over cost of LD 1083. Legislators did not allocate funding to implement the measure during the special session and Dunlap estimates it will cost an additional $100,000 to use ranked-choice voting for the March 2020 presidential primary election.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at MHPC. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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