- The Maine Wire - https://www.themainewire.com -

Effort to elect constitutional officers fails again in Maine

A common-sense reform to put more power in the hands of Maine voters stalled in the Legislature again last week. 

LD 874 would have changed the way Maine selects its constitutional officers by shifting the process to popular election. The bill has been proposed in previous legislatures before but has failed to pass once again.

Maine has one of the most insulated processes for appointing crucial positions like attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor and treasurer. Instead of the voters handpicking these officers or the governor appointing them with Senate confirmation, the Maine Constitution prescribes a system where sitting lawmakers select these positions themselves without input from the people or chief executive. 

Maine is the only state where the attorney general and state treasurer is elected by the Legislature. Maine is one of just three states where lawmakers select the secretary of state. In other states, most of these positions are selected by voters or appointed by the chief executive, if the position exists at all. 

In Maine, the end result of this insulated process is that most of our constitutional officers are termed-out legislators with friends in high places who are rarely well-qualified for their new positions. 

For example, the current state auditor, Matthew Dunlap, holds two degrees in history and English. He served in the Maine House of Representatives from 1996 to 2004. He was then appointed by the legislature to serve as secretary of state from 2005 to 2010, and then again from 2012 to 2021.

Dunlap is surely a sharp guy who means well and has dutifully served the state in various roles, but none of this makes him qualified to hold the office of state auditor. He has progressed from position to position with no consent or approval from Maine voters, only his friends in the legislature.

It seemed like the bill was actually going to pass this time around, though the two-thirds majority requirement to amend the Maine Constitution is always tough to achieve. Alas, the final vote came down to one divisive issue: ranked-choice voting.

On June 14, the Senate voted 20-14, with one absent, to approve an amendment to the bill that would have required Maine’s constitutional officers be elected through ranked-choice voting. Two Democrats joined 12 Republicans in opposition.

The House voted against that amendment, with 60 members voting for it and 82 against it, with nine absent. The bill was then sent back to the Senate, where it was insisted to pass, which led to it subsequently dying between the chambers in nonconcurrence.

For such a monumental and crucial change to the way Maine’s constitutional officers are chosen, the inclusion of ranked-choice voting in the bill via a Senate amendment was ultimately the poison pill that led to its demise.

Making our government more representative and fair is an idea both parties should be able to get behind. While the effort to allow Mainers to select their constitutional officers failed again this time around, there is little doubt the issue will be pursued again in future legislative sessions.