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Briefs Filed in Ranked-Choice Voting Constitutional Challenge

The first round of written arguments over the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting were filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court Friday.

The court has been asked if the election overhaul for statewide candidates approved by voters in November satisfies several provisions in the Maine Constitution.

Among them is whether a system designed to ensure that the winner in congressional, gubernatorial and legislative contests is elected by a majority complies with the constitutional requirement that winners win by a plurality, or the most votes.

Ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes cast after the first tally, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidate and the ballots are retabulated.

The process continues until one candidate has a majority of votes and is declared the winner.

Currently, the candidate who receives a plurality wins the election.

Briefs filed in support of ranked-choice voting argued that nothing in the Maine Constitution requires elected officials to be elected by a specific election system. The Maine League of Women Voters argued that the constitution doesn’t preclude an election winner from receiving a majority vote.

Dmitri Bam, an associate professor at the University of Maine School of Law, also defended the constitutionality of ranked choice. Bam wrote that the system satisfies the plurality requirement because of how votes are tabulated.

“After all the votes have been counted, the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner of the election,” he wrote.

Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills argued the opposite. She wrote that the Constitution was changed three times to ensure that winners were determined by a plurality. She also wrote that ranked choice violates a separate part of the Constitution designed to resolve ties.

The Maine House Republican caucus and the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group, also the system is unconstitutional.

Over 52 percent of Maine voters supported ranked-choice voting in November. Maine will be the first state to implement the system if it survives the constitutional challenge.

Oral arguments are scheduled for April 13.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.