AUGUSTA, Maine (CN) – Vying to implement ranked-choice voting by the June primaries, Maine political candidates have asked a court to institute the nation’s first electoral system where voters rank candidates by preference rather than casting a ballot for them.
The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting and eight candidates filed the suit on Feb. 16 in Kennebec Superior Court, quoting Secretary Matthew Dunlap as stating weeks earlier that he planned to delay enactment of the new system, which is also known as instant runoff. Represented by the Portland firm Bernstein Shur, the candidates claim that they are “left guessing which method of election will decide their respective races.”
While Maine voters adopted the ranked-choice system in November 2016, the state’s highest court determined last May that the measure violated certain provisions of the Maine Constitution. State-level general elections must be determined by a plurality of votes, determined the court, but primaries and federal elections do not reference the same election plurality. Based on this opinion, the Maine Legislature passed a law in October 2017 to delay the system from taking effect until 2021.
Since then, however, more than 80,000 Mainers have signed a petition to place a people’s veto referendum on the June 12 ballot. The petition’s goal is to void certain parts of the Legislature’s law. But if the Secretary of State’s Office certifies the signatures, the voters will have a chance to decide to use the system on the ballot in June, and the Legislature’s law will be delayed so that the system will be in place to tally June’s primary contests.
Secretary Dunlap has publicly called the suit “premature.” His office said it cannot comment on pending litigation but that it is “still in the process of certifying the petitions for the peoples’ veto.”
“The deadline for the certification process to be completed is March 5,” Secretary Dunlap’s office said. “At that time, we will know whether or not RCV will be implemented for the June 12 primary.”
Only 61,000 signatures are required to place the people’s veto on the ballot. The complaint alleges that the secretary is planning to “take no action for at least another 30 days while already-certified People’s Veto petition signatures are re-verified.” The suit also claims that the secretary “privately disclosed to members of the Maine Legislature that he has no intention to implement the law for the 2018 elections.”
“The candidates have a personal stake in the outcome of this dispute,” says the suit, “because the proper implementation of the Law for the 2018 elections will alter both the candidates’ campaign strategy, and the potential outcomes of the upcoming elections.”
The Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting want ranked-choice voting in place in time to tally the June primary election results. They are represented by Michael Bosse and James Monteleone at Bernstein Shur. CRCV did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.