Maine Judge Paves Way for Instant-Runoff Voting

(CN) – A judge granted a temporary restraining order Tuesday that directs Maine to implement America’s first statewide ranked-choice voting system in June primaries.

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.

Before the new system could take effect, however, the Maine Legislature passed a law in October 2017 to delay the system until 2021.

This delay spurred a challenge in February by eight candidates and the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting in Kennebec County Superior Court.

Siding with this group Tuesday, Justice Michaela Murphy ordered the Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to enforce will of the public in time for the June 12 primary elections.

“To stop implementation now, ten weeks prior to election day, could cause irreparable harm of not being able to implement the will of the voters by the June 12, 2018, election day,” the 14-page order states.

“As a result of the signatures collected in support of the People’s Veto, it has been understood by candidates, officials and the public alike that the primary on June 12 will be decided by ranked-choice voting,” Murphy added.

Attorneys for the challengers with the Portland firm Bernstein Shur have not returned a request for comment on the development.

Maine lawmakers instituted the delay last year after the state’s highest court determined that ranked-choice voting violated certain provisions of the Maine Constitution. The ruling emphasized that 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.

Since then, however, more than 80,000 Mainers signed a petition to place a people’s veto referendum on the June 12 ballot.

Ranked-choice voting in Maine received vocal support from some of the state’s noteworthy musician residents including Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Phish drummer Jon Fishman.

Maine Governor Paul LePage, a polarizing Tea Party supporter, was elected without a majority in 2010 and 2014.

LePage, who once told the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” is prevented from running for governor again because of term limits.

The offices of Governor LePage and Secretary of State Dunlap did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Strong third-party bids have resulted in Maine governors winning nine of past 11 gubernatorial races by plurality, not majority.

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