The City of Portland – Maine’s most liberal municipality – tried to prevent the Maine GOP from collecting signatures at polling locations on Super Tuesday to repeal LD 1083, a law passed by the legislature during an August 2019 special session that expands the use of ranked-choice voting in Maine to presidential primary and general elections.
Portlanders faced a local referendum question Tuesday that asked voters if they would like to expand the use of ranked-choice voting to city council and school board elections. The measure passed overwhelmingly with 81 percent of the 24,330 votes cast on the measure. The city has used ranked choice voting in its mayoral elections since 2011.
The city cited a state law that prohibits petitioners from influencing voters on an issue that appears on the ballot as its rationale for denying circulators the opportunity to collect signatures at polling locations. However, the issue on the local ballot asked voters to expand RCV to other local elections while the petitions were being circulated for repeal of a statewide law expanding the voting system to presidential elections.
According to the Bangor Daily News, the party had expected to reach a compromise with the city allowing citizens to circulate petitions, but when they arrived at polling places on Tuesday, were told they must remain at least 150 feet away.
In response to the city’s actions, the Maine GOP filed a temporary restraining order to force the city to allow groups to gather signatures for the people’s veto effort. The order was quickly granted by a Maine Superior Court Judge. However, the order did not come until late Tuesday afternoon and circulators were not able to begin circulating petitions until 3 p.m., losing about eight hours of time to collect signatures.
“We are pleased that the Superior Court recognized this as we did – an illegal attempt to silence the voices of Portland residents,” Maine GOP executive director Jason Savage said.
According to the BDN’s reporting, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said he agreed with the city’s decision to bar petitioners from gathering signatures at Portland polling places because of the local referendum question on the same topic, however the Portland Press Herald reported city officials received guidance from the Secretary of State’s Office before making their decision.
In addition, as highlighted by the Press Herald on February 28, the language of the local RCV referendum in Portland is incomplete and will need adjustment before the next school board elections in 2022.
This is because there are two at-large seats on Portland’s school board. Currently, the seats are awarded to the two candidates who receive the most votes on Election Day. However, under RCV, there can only be one winner – the candidate who receives a “majority” of the votes cast after multiple rounds of tabulation. Therefore, the city must adopt additional rules or make a charter amendment to elect at-large members of the school board.