Election Center

Lawsuit aims to halt people’s veto effort to repeal ranked-choice voting in presidential elections

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The Committee on Ranked Choice Voting, one of the primary proponents of the new voting system brought to Maine in 2016, filed a lawsuit last week alleging the Maine GOP’s ongoing people’s veto campaign to repeal a law expanding the use of ranked-choice voting in presidential elections is invalid.

At issue is the timing of the acceptance and issuance of petitions by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap that allowed the Maine GOP to begin collecting signatures to repeal LD 1083, the bill passed during a special legislative session in August 2019 that calls for using ranked-choice voting to decide presidential primary and general elections.

When the law was passed in August Governor Janet Mills took no action on it, allowing it to take effect three days after the legislature reconvened in January. The Maine GOP announced its effort to repeal the law on February 4 and has 90 days after the adjournment of the legislative session to collect enough signatures to delay and potentially repeal the law. If successful in collecting the 60,000+ signatures required to achieve ballot status, its implementation would be delayed for the November election where voters would decide whether to keep or repeal the law.

In the lawsuit, the Committee on Ranked Choice Voting alleges the Secretary of State’s Office improperly dispensed people’s veto petitions to the Maine GOP and the party should instead pursue a citizens initiative to change the new ranked-choice voting law because it was already in effect.

“Plaintiffs ask the Court to declare that Maine law bars the pending People’s Veto Initiative that seeks to suspend P.L. 2019, ch. 539, entitled “An Act To Implement Ranked-choice Voting for Presidential Primary and General Elections in Maine” (hereinafter the “2019 RCV Law”), until a referendum vote is taken. The Maine Constitution, however, bars the use of the People’s veto provision to suspend laws already in effect such as the 2019 RCV Law, which immediately took effect on January 12, 2020 when the governor’s inaction had the same force and effect as if the law was signed at the close of the 2019 legislative session. Only a direct initiative referendum can lawfully repeal a law already in effect, not a People’s Veto, and that option remains available to proponents seeking to challenge the 2019 RCV Law,” the complaint reads.

The Maine GOP states that this issue was already addressed by the Secretary of State’s Office when their team tried to begin its efforts to the repeal the law.

“Their lawsuit is without merit. These issues were already addressed by the Maine Secretary of State when the People’s Veto Effort was authorized to move forward,” Maine GOP chair Demi Kouzounos said in a statement.

“The RCV lawsuit tries to confuse the courts and the public on the timing of our effort. However, the Secretary of State’s office informed us officially in September 2019 that the application to begin the veto could not begin until after January 2020. In doing so the Secretary of State’s office specifically noted the Attorney General’s Official Opinion No. 79-170, which has long guided the timing of Legislation and legal deadlines in Maine.”

In addition, as the Maine GOP notes, had the law already been in effect and unable to be repealed through the people’s veto process, the Maine Secretary of State made a mistake in not using the ranked-choice voting process in the presidential primary election held in March, calling into question the validity of those results if the Committee on Ranked Choice Voting’s claims are valid.

About Jacob Posik

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

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