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Maine Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Ranked-Choice Voting Appeal

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images
Supporters of an efforts to repeal ranked-choice voting carry boxes of signed petitions into the Cross Building, Monday, June 15, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

Maine's Secretary of State is appealing a Superior Court ruling decision that could decide whether voters will use ranked-choice voting in this fall's presidential election.

The appeal follows a decision by the Superior Courtthat a person circulating petitions for a ballot initiative does not have to be a registered voter while they are collecting signatures, only when they turn them in.

That ruling reverseda decision by Maine’s Secretary of Statethat had disqualified several hundred names and kept a Republican-backed repeal effort of ranked-choice voting off the fall ballot.

In arguments before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Assistant Attorney General Phyliss Gardener argued that the lower court was wrong, which prompted a question from acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Andrew Mead: “The Superior Court’s reversal of the Secretary of State’s determination contains an obvious error that still must be corrected and, once corrected, will alter the outcome. But don’t we — in order to reach that — don’t we have to start jumping into the facts of the case down there in order to have a likelihood of success we really have to get down to the nitty-gritty of what the Superior Court did with the math?”

That question is important because the Supreme Court’s role is to interpret the law as applied to the facts in the case and not the facts themselves.

The answer could affect the presidential race in Maine, because if the petitions are ruled valid, then the use of ranked-choice voting would be suspended until voters decide the issue in November.

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