Maine Senate Passes Challenge To Ranked-Choice Voting Law

Apr 2, 2018

Another turn in the ongoing legal and political fight over ranked-choice voting Maine — Republicans in the Maine Senate on Monday passed a measure to block implementation of the system, which could be in place for the June primaries.

Republicans used their slim majority in the Senate to approve an order that effectively challenges the secretary of state’s authority to implement the ranked-choice voting law, which nearly 400,000 Maine voters approved at the ballot box two years ago. The vote was 22-12, with four Senate Democrats joining Republicans to pass the order.

The order makes over three-dozen claims. Among them, that state election officials cannot spend money to implement the system without legislative approval. Republicans have blocked efforts to fund implementation.

Nonetheless, Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau insists that the order is not designed to throw another wrench into the system’s rollout, but instead to provide legal clarity in advance of the June primary.

“The one thing we don’t want to have is chaos after the vote. We don’t want to be trying to figure this all out in court after the fact,” he says.

That argument was echoed by Republican Sen. Roger Katz during the floor debate held Monday afternoon.

Katz says lawsuits challenging election results were inevitable if the issues outlined in the order are not resolved.

“It’s not about the policy of ranked-choice voting. It’s about trying to avoid a chaotic situation and a potential train wreck that I suggest is right around the corner if we do nothing,” he says.

But ranked-choice voting supporters — and those Democrats that didn't join Republicans in the vote — aren’t buying it. Several criticized Republicans for once again blocking the law that was approved by voters.

Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson says the order was too expansive and would allow the Senate to sue the secretary of state.

“The broadness of this order concerns all of us to such great regard that there’s no way we can support something like this,” he says.

Thibodeau, meanwhile, says he’ll attempt to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit between the secretary of state’s office and the group advocating for ranked-choice voting.

Supporters filed an injunction last week to force Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to implement the system after Dunlap warned that a conflict in statutes could scuttle plans to use the system for the June 12 primary.

Kennebec Superior Court Judge Michaela Murphy is expected to rule on the injunction this week.

It’s unclear whether the Senate’s move on Monday will affect her ruling, but it could cause delays in the nation’s first primary election using ranked-choice voting, a system purportedly designed to reduce divisive campaigns and eliminate so-called spoiler candidates, all while producing a clear majority winner.

Ranked-choice voting has had an uncertain go since it was approved in a statewide referendum. Lawmakers delayed implementation and passed a measure that eventually repeals the new system.

Ranked-choice supporters then organized a people’s veto, which will appear on the June ballot — potentially at the same time that Mainers are using the system for the first time.