Election Center

Maine’s high court rules RCV must be used in presidential election

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The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday that ranked-choice voting must be used in the state’s upcoming presidential election, making Maine the first state in the nation to use the voting system in a statewide presidential election.

The high court’s decision overturned a Superior Court ruling that allowed the people’s veto question to appear on the November ballot. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap appealed that decision, resulting in the high court’s actions Tuesday.

At issue was the constitutionality of the state’s requirement that petition circulators be registered to vote in the municipality where they reside when they begin circulating petitions. Two circulators on the repeal ranked-choice voting people’s veto campaign were not registered to vote in their municipality when they began circulating petitions, but did register to vote in their municipalities before turning in their petitions to the secretary of state.

The two circulators collected 988 signatures that were invalidated by both Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and the high court, leaving the people’s veto effort short of the required signature threshold to appear on the ballot.

In its decision, the court said: “The requirement that a circulator be registered in the circulator’s municipality of residence while circulating a petition therefore imposes only ‘reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions’ on the First Amendment rights of petition supporters for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the residency requirement of the Maine Constitution. Thus, we conclude that the government’s interest is sufficient to justify the restriction that the requirement places on petitioners’ First Amendment rights.”

As a result, Maine must now use ranked-choice voting in the upcoming presidential election. The system will be in use because there are five presidential candidates who qualified for ballot access in the upcoming election: Republican President Donald Trump, Democrat Joe Biden, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, Green Party Howie Hawkins and Alliance Party candidate Rocky de la Fuente.

If a candidate fails to achieve a majority of the votes cast in the first round, a ranked-choice runoff will ensue. Because Maine is one of two states that splits its Electoral College votes, three separate ranked-choice tabulations will have to occur: One tabulation representing the statewide vote for which the victor will receive two Electoral College votes; one tabulation for the First Congressional District for which the victor will receive one vote; and another tabulation for the Second Congressional District representing the state’s fourth and final Electoral College vote.

If that process goes anything like the primary elections held in July — where Secretary of State Dunlap told the public two weeks after the election that his staff made a mistake and excluded 11,000 ballots from the final tally — Maine could have a real mess on its hands. It would arguably be a greater debacle than the “hanging chads” in the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

At this time, it remains unknown if the Maine Republican Party plans to appeal the high court’s decision rendered Tuesday.

“We are disappointed in the decision and exploring further options for review by the federal courts to protect Maine voters’ rights to be heard,” Maine GOP Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas said in a statement.

It appears highly unlikely an appeal of Tuesday’s decision will be successful. Future efforts to repeal ranked-choice voting will have to be accomplished through the legislature or via the citizens initiative process.

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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