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Maine's High Court Puts Decision Allowing November Vote On Ranked-Choice Voting On Hold

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine GOP, speaks about efforts to repeal ranked-choice voting while standing next to boxes containing signed petitions near the State House, Monday, June 15, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

The Maine Supreme Court Tuesday issued a ruling in a case that could determine whether voters will use ranked-choice voting in the November presidential election. The case involves a citizen initiative that supporters are trying to get onto the fall ballot, but Tuesday’s opinion does not determine the fate of the ballot question itself.

In a procedural ruling, the State Supreme Court said that a lower court decision that would send the citizens' initiative to Maine voters this fall is on hold. The law court did not rule, however, on the substance of the citizen initiative itself.

“What they clarified today was that there is an automatic stay in place, and that they didn’t need to rule on whether we could get a stay,” says Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. “So that puts us in the posture now of going to print the ballots where there is no people’s veto question and a ranked-choice election for president.”

The citizens’ initiative was launched by the Republican party, which opposes ranked-choice voting and wants voters to decide whether it should apply to the presidential race in Maine. If the ballot question were to qualify for the ballot, the state constitution would require that ranked-choice voting in the race be suspended until voters decide the issue. Dunlap says that as ballot printing deadlines loom, he is concerned about what will happen if the law court should issue an additional ruling that the signatures are indeed valid.

“If they now rule that the superior court was correct in its initial ruling, that puts us in a lot of trouble,” he says. “Because we are at a point now where we have to go to print. We have to have ballots in the hands of overseas and military voters by the end of the month."

Dunlap says ballots would have to be reprinted under those circumstances, at a cost he estimates at about $250,000. In addition, he says the state could be in violation of federal law requiring that ballots be available for overseas and military voters by September 19.

Updated 5:01 p.m. September 8, 2020.

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