Maine GOP Brings Federal Challenge to Ranked-Choice Voting

BANGOR, Maine (CN) – A month after Maine’s highest court upheld the election-law shift, state Republicans brought a federal complaint Friday that casts the country’s first ranked-choice voting system as unconstitutional.

Also known as instant-runoff voting, the system by which voters rank candidates by preference, rather than casting a ballot for them, was voted into law via ballot initiative in November 2016.

Maine’s Republican Party tapped attorneys at Pierce Atwood for their court challenge to the so-called RCV Act on Friday. With election primaries scheduled for June 12, the party says it has a constitutional right to determine how nominees are selected, and that instant-runoff voting would frustrate this aim.

“The RCV Act severely burdens the party’s right to freedom of association under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” the complaint states. “Specifically, it requires the party to change the process which the party has deemed most appropriate for selecting candidates to represent the party’s beliefs and messages. There is no compelling justification for imposing this burden on the party’s associational rights.”

While Maine became the first state to approve ranked-choice voting at the state level, the system has been used in municipal elections across the country, including in San Francisco; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Portland, Maine.

Since the RCV Act’s passage, the law has multiple challenges. Though state lawmakers passed a law to delay implementation of the law until 2021, a Superior Court judge blocked the delay on April 3. Two weeks later, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected a challenge by the Republican-controlled state Senate.

While Maine voters get their first taste of the ranked-choice system in June, they can decide the fate of a ballot initiative that will keep ranked-choice voting in place for federal elections in November.

Approval of the so-called “people’s veto” would nullify a legislative bid to delay and then repeal the RCV Act law unless the Maine Constitution is amended.

Maine’s Democratic Party dismissed the GOP’s suit as a partisan maneuver.

“The Maine Republican Party lost at the ballot box and lost in Maine courts, but rather than follow the law of our state as unanimously declared by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, they continue to fight RCV, actively attempt to thwart it, and work hard to undermine it,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a released statement. “This is just another attempt to chip away at RCV, but Maine people have spoken – repeatedly – and it’s time for Republicans to listen.”

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