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GOP Files Suit To Block Ranked-Choice Voting

Joel Page
AP Photo
Maine Statehouse

Maine Republicans have filed another legal challenge targeting ranked-choice voting, the new tabulation system that is to be used in the June primary election.

After formally declaring opposition to ranked-choice voting at their state convention in Augusta Friday, party officials then filed a lawsuit in Federal Court to block the use of the system in the June primary, arguing that the party should determine how its nominees are elected.

Republicans in the legislature have consistently opposed ranked-choice voting. Republicans in the Maine Senate filed a suit to overturn the law, but the state Supreme Court ruled that ranked-choice voting will be used in the June primary elections.

In this new lawsuit filed in Federal Court in Bangor, GOP lawyer Joshua Dunlap argues that the party has a constitutional right to determine how its nominees are chosen.

“There have been other state law regulations of party primaries that have been addressed by the Supreme Court and then struck down on the very grounds we assert,” Dunlap says. “So, we think there are some very clear precedents and support for our position.”

But Dunlap acknowledges that the U.S. Supreme Court has not taken up a case challenging ranked-choice voting on the basis of a political party’s constitutional rights. In filing the latest suit, he says the Federal Court is being asked to expedite the hearing of the case, given that the primaries are June 12, about five weeks away.

The party position against ranked-choice voting was adopted at the state convention without debate.

Party Executive Director Jason Savage says delegates were informed ahead of time and clearly support it.

“What we are doing is saying is we want clarity, we want to know the day of the primary who our nominee is,” Savage says. “We don’t want face a three-week or a month-and-a-half or six-week legal battle while the courts try to figure out who got elected, or the Secretary of State tries to figure out who got elected.”

Republicans say they are ready to take the matter to higher courts if the District Court rules against them.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting say the GOP is failing to understand the federal legal precedents guiding how states regulate primaries.

“I think this is a last-ditch effort by desperate folks who represent a narrow sliver of the most extreme partisans in the state of Maine that don’t like ranked-choice voting,” says Kyle Bailey, from the Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting.

Bailey says state courts have already ruled decisively on ranked-choice voting, and affirmed that it will be used in the primary elections next month.

"We have already been in court, multiple times now, and the Kennebec County Superior Court and then the Maine Supreme Judicial Court decided this issue,” Bailey says. “They said ranked-choice voting does not run afoul of the constitution for use in primary elections.”

GOP party attorneys say they hope the court will act on the case in the next couple of weeks. Both sides say they are ready to appeal whatever ruling the District Court issues, so the question could linger into the summer months.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.