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Lawmakers Agree To Delay — And Maybe Repeal — Maine's Voter-Approved Ranked Choice Voting Law

Late Monday night, the Legislature passed a bill that will delay and potentially repeal Maine’s landmark ranked-choice voting law, which voters passed last year. Supporters of ranked-choice voting are angry, and now they’re vowing to launch a people’s veto to overturn the Legislature’s delay-and-repeal bill.

The passed bill delays implementation of ranked-choice voting until voters approve a constitutional amendment to fix the election system. If one isn’t approved by 2021, the election system is repealed. And despite the four-year window for the fix, the prospect of repeal is very real — because voters may never get the chance to consider a constitutional amendment.

Two-thirds of the Legislature is needed to ratify one. And so far, the votes have been well short of that threshold, much to the chagrin of Democratic state Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop.

“We wonder why people come before our committees and look at us as though they want to throw daggers in our eyes,” he said, attempting to persuade lawmakers to defeat the delay-and-repeal bill late Monday. “It is incumbent upon us. And it’s responsible of us in the truest way, to vote this down and at least give the people the constitutional resolution that they deserve in order to amend the constitution in a way that would allow them to have the election reform that they have told us they want to have.”

“The intransigence in this building is astronomical. The opposition to election reform is real, it exists,” said Kyle Bailey, who helped lead the ranked-choice ballot initiative last year.

Bailey has spent the last nine months at the State House trying to protect a new voting system that over 380,000 Mainers supported at the polls — it hasn’t gone the way Bailey hoped it would. Some Republicans in the Legislature have vowed to repeal the election overhaul, and in May, they received the political cover to help them do just that.

A May Maine Supreme Judicial Court opinion said ranked-choice voting violated the Maine Constitution in some elections.

Bailey and ranked-choice supporters have tried to convince lawmakers to send a constitutional fix to voters. So far, that effort has failed.

Bailey’s group then tried to convince lawmakers to implement parts of the law that the court didn’t review. On Monday, that effort fell apart, too.

“For us to put this mother of all nightmares on our local clerks, volunteers and ballot clerks would be unreasonable and unfair. I’d ask you to consider that carefully,” said state Sen. Bill Diamond, one of several Democrats who joined Republicans to block partial implementation of ranked choice.

Diamond worried about the consequences and confusion of having two voting systems — one for gubernatorial and legislative elections and another for congressional ones. He was one of two Democrats in the Senate to back the delay-and-repeal bill.

Later, at last 10 Democrats in the House flipped their support for partial implementation and also backed delay and repeal. In a statement, House Speaker Sara Gideon blamed Maine Republicans for “unrelenting opposition” to voter-approved referendum results.

Bailey said his group isn’t giving up.

“Hopefully Maine people will see what’s happening here and hold them accountable in the next election. And also rise up, if we move forward with a people’s veto, if that’s what comes out of tonight, that we’re able to move forward and restore ranked-choice voting,” he said.

It’s unclear if there will be electoral consequences for the lawmakers who worked to repeal ranked-choice voting. But Bailey believes a people’s veto initiative is necessary to protect what voters approved last year, and that could mean ranked choice will be in effect at the same time Mainers are voting in gubernatorial and congressional primaries in June.

That’s because a people’s veto campaign, if successful, puts a temporary hold on the delay-and-repeal law just passed by the Legislature.

But first, ranked-choice supporters will have 90 days to collect over 61,000 signatures. The clock begins when and if Gov. Paul LePage signs the bill that passed Monday.

This story was originally published Oct. 24, 2017 at 6:19 a.m. ET.

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