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Supporters Urge Maine Lawmakers to Retain Ranked Choice Voting Law

Dozens of supporters of a landmark ranked choice voting system urged lawmakers not to scuttle the voter-approved law during a public hearing at the State House Friday.

They told the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that the Legislature should pass a constitutional amendment so that the law can be fully implemented.

Cara Brown McCormick helped lead the ranked choice ballot initiative approved by voters last year. She said it was disingenuous for lawmakers to use a recent Maine Supreme Court opinion as cover to repeal the entire law.

"Why should votes cast in favor of seating all of you sitting here today be anymore valid than the votes that were cast in favor or against Question 5?" McCormick said.

Last week the Maine Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion that part of the new voting law violates the state Constitution. Supporters of ranked choice say the Legislature should implement the system anyway and pass an amendment to make the law comply with the Constitution. They testified against a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Garrett Mason that would repeal the law.

Mason engaged in several heated exchanges with some of those who testified, including Kyle Bailey. Bailey was the campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. He has said that politicians like Mason are insulting Maine voters who supported the law. Bailey also said during a recent rally that politicians will defy the will of voters unless supporters of ranked choice "knock some sense into them."

Mason said the rhetoric conjured images of "physical violence and lynch mobs." Bailey stood by his comments, saying he and other supporters of the voter-approved law were insulted that some lawmakers want to repeal the law.

"And I think we have every right to be angry about it," Bailey said.

Most of those who testified supported passing a constitutional amendment and against Mason's repeal bill. Nonetheless, passing a constitutional amendment will be difficult. Two-thirds of the House and Senate is needed to pass a constitutional amendment, which would then need to be ratified by Maine voters.

While some Democrats are supportive of such an amendment, Republicans are largely opposed to it. Democrats have a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, while Republicans have an edge in the Senate.

It's unclear if there are enough votes to repeal ranked choice voting, but unlike the constitutional amendment, it will only take a simple majority to do it. Gov. Paul LePage has said he supports repealing the law.

Advocates for the law say lawmakers should implement ranked choice voting for primary and federal elections - neither of which were addressed in the court opinion. The opinion said ranked choice conflicted with the Constitution in gubernatorial and legislative races for the general election.

But the Secretary of State's Office testified Friday that it does not support running two election systems because it could be confusing to voters and costly to the state. The Secretary of State says the Legislature should repeal ranked choice if it cannot muster the support to pass a constitutional amendment.

The position by state election officials may help lawmakers justify a repeal vote.

The ballot initiative was backed by $2.8 million in campaign donations and, ultimately, the desire of close to 400,000 Mainers, who voted to dramatically overhaul the state’s election system.

For decades, Maine candidates for state and federal offices have won by obtaining the most votes, also known as a plurality. The election system has come under fire in recent years because, in governor’s races in particular, the campaigns have been divisive and the winners haven’t won with a majority.

Ranked-choice voting supporters say the new system will ensure a majority winner. And, because voters rank candidates in order of preference, candidates won’t be able to simply appeal to their base constituencies.

Opponents argue that ranked choice voting is confusing to voters.

Both the repeal and constitutional amendment bills face additional work by the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee before going to House and Senate for floor votes.

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