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Maine Runs Into Another Setback To Expand Ranked-Choice Voting System

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Photo

There has been another major setback for efforts to expand Maine’s ranked-choice voting system. Last week the Maine House fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to send a proposed constitutional amendment out to the voters. Tuesday the State Senate also came up shy of the needed threshold.

The proposal to ask voters to expand the ranked-choice system has garnered a majority of votes in both houses, but requires a two thirds vote of the Legislature, as it seeks to change the state constitution. Maine voters did approve the use of ranked-choice voting in state elections, but the Maine Supreme Court ruled that it could only be applied to federal races, because the wording of the state constitution says the winner of an election needs only a plurality of the votes cast.

Democratic State Senator Justin Chenette of Saco reminded colleagues on the Senate floor that the voters have twice indicated their preference for the use of ranked-choice voting.

“It’s time the legislature respect the process and the will of the voters when they cast their ballot,” Chenette says. “It’s time to send this out to fully implement ranked-choice voting.”

Ranked-choice is a system in which voters rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference, and a winner is declared only if they garner more than 50 percent of total votes, which may take a number of rounds.

Many Republicans, including state Sen. Scott Cyrway of Benton, dislike the system, and believe that whoever gets the most votes should win.

“To me this is not fair, no matter how you look at it,” Cyrway says. “I have seen people win by just an arm’s length, and now you are going to take it away from somebody that has worked hard.”

Ranked-choice voting has had a stormy past in Maine. In addition to its legal struggles, the Legislature voted to repeal the law entirely, only to have supporters collect the needed signatures to force a referendum on the legislature’s action.

Ranked-choice voting was used in Maine’s congressional elections last fall.

While there will be further votes on the proposed constitutional amendment in both the House and Senate, it appears the measure will fall short, and ranked-choice voting will continue to be used only in primary and federal elections.

Correction: Ranked-choice voting is used in party primary elections in addition to federal elections.

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