Maine Governor Janet Mills decided Friday to let LD 1083, “An Act To Implement Ranked-choice Voting for Presidential Primary and General Elections in Maine,” become law without her signature. As a result, Maine will become the first state to use ranked-choice voting in presidential elections.
Because Governor Mills released the bill without her endorsement, the law will not take effect in time for ranked-choice voting to be used in the March 2020 Democratic primary election. Mills cited cost as a factor in her decision and said questions remain about how using ranked-choice voting will impact the selection of delegates to party conventions.
“By not signing this bill now, I am giving the Legislature an opportunity to appropriate funds and to take any other appropriate action in the Second Regular Session to fully implement ranked-choice voting in all aspects of presidential elections as the Legislature sees fit,” Mills said in a statement.
Mills said there are “serious questions about the cost and logistics of ranked-choice voting, including collecting and transporting ballots from more than 400 towns in the middle of winter” and noted the Senate in passing LD 1083 “did not add any appropriation, nor did it clarify how the will of the voters would be reflected in the selection of delegates and in the ultimate nomination of a candidate for President.”
Mills sent a memo to the legislature Friday informing the body of her decision. The full text of the letter reads:
I am permitting L.D. 1083 to become law without my signature, allowing ranked-choice voting to be used in the general election for presidential electors in November 2020. My experience with ranked-choice voting is that it gives voters a greater voice and it encourages civility among campaigns and candidates at a time when such civility is sorely needed. At the same time, there are serious questions about the cost and logistics of ranked-choice voting, including collecting and transporting ballots from more than 400 towns in the middle of winter, and questions remain about the actual impact of this particular primary on the selection of delegates to party conventions.
At the time the bill authorizing presidential primaries was enacted in late June, the Senate decided to hold L.D. 1083 because of its fiscal impact on state and local governments. In enacting this bill late in the day on August 26, the Senate did not add any appropriation, nor did it clarify how the will of the voters would be reflected in the selection of delegates and in the ultimate nomination of a candidate for President. By not signing this bill now, I am giving the Legislature an opportunity to appropriate funds and to take any other appropriate action in the Second Regular Session to fully implement ranked-choice voting in all aspects of presidential elections as the Legislature sees fit.
As for the general election for presidential electors, the law will allow voters to use ranked-choice voting in the fall of 2020 if there are three or more candidates, requiring a majority vote instead of a plurality vote. The law will still require that one presidential elector be chosen from each congressional district and two electors to be chosen at large, but ranked-choice voting could well make a difference if there are more than two candidates and if no candidate achieves more than fifty percent in the first round of tabulation in one of the two Congressional districts or in the at large count. The two at large electors would both represent the one winner in the statewide tabulation for President.
In the case of the presidential primary, the purpose is not to elect an individual or to choose electors for President, but to allow the party using the primary system to apportion delegates to its convention. Even without this bill, however, the parties could still use ranked-choice voting, or some similar process, in the selection of delegates. Depending on state and national party rules, a party which uses a primary presidential election could elect delegates to the party convention without reference to the results of the primary, and they may select delegates by ranked-choice voting, or some similar method, at the municipal caucuses held in March, per 21-A MRS §311. The party will be free to employ ranked-choice voting in the very process that is most likely to influence which presidential candidates the delegates to the national convention represent in nominating a candidate for President. People whose candidates do not achieve the required threshold will be able to vote for someone else, and the purposes of ranked-choice voting can be fulfilled without making use it in the primary.
I thank the sponsors of L.D. 1083 for presenting this bill and I am optimistic about the ability of political parties in Maine to implement ranked-choice voting at every level in an inclusive and fiscally responsible way in the upcoming presidential election year.
Mills’ decision not to endorse the bill was criticized by RCV proponents who hoped to use the system in Maine’s new presidential primary next March. Mills’ statement leaves the door open for the legislature to make changes to LD 1083 when they return for the Second Session and appropriate funds to implement it.
The Maine Heritage Policy Center sent a letter to Governor Mills on August 29 asking her to veto the bill. If you oppose ranked-choice voting, click here to sign the petition to end its use in Maine.