Maine High Court Nixes Instant-Runoff Voting

AUGUSTA, Maine (CN) — The nation’s first statewide ranked-choice voting system, also known as “instant-runoff” voting, which Maine residents approved in November, is unconstitutional, the state’s highest court ruled Tuesday.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court found in a unanimous advisory opinion that the Ranked-Choice Voting Act violates the plurality requirements of the Maine Constitution.

Fifty-two percent of Maine voters approved the measure in November. Under the system, voters rank candidates by preference rather than casting a ballot for a single person. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated through successive rounds of counting until someone wins a majority.

However, this prevents “the recognition of the winning candidate when the first plurality is identified,” the justices wrote in the 45-page opinion. “According to the terms of the [Maine] Constitution, a candidate who receives a plurality of the votes would be declared the winner in that election. The Act, in contrast, would not declare the plurality candidate the winner of the election, but would require continued tabulation until a majority is achieved or all votes are exhausted.”

Maine Governor Paul LePage was elected without a majority in 2010 and 2014. Strong third-party bids have resulted in Maine governors winning nine of past 11 gubernatorial races by plurality, not majority.

Although the citizen-led initiative went into effect in January, the Republican-controlled Maine Senate asked the court for guidance. The court outlined two options: amend the state constitution or repeal the law and go back to the plurality system.

The nonbinding ruling warns that if no action is taken and ranked voting is implemented, the results of coming elections could be called into question.

“The potential for a constitutional challenge to those election results and ensuing upheaval is real,” the seven justices wrote. “The time to plan and organize a fair and impartial election is at hand and the doubt surrounding the constitutionality of the Ranked-Choice Voting Act casts uncertainty on all aspects of voting preparation.”

What happens next remains to be seen. LePage, a Republican, has been quixotic and controversial.

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