PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Ranked-choice voting supporters are embarking on a referendum do-over, seeking enough signatures for a vote to nullify a legislative delay and implement the system for the June primary elections.
If their efforts are successful, the state would move forward with a dual-election system — ranked-choice voting for primaries and federal races but not for gubernatorial elections or legislative races — to avoid a conflict with the Maine Constitution.
The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting said it’s already halfway to a goal of collecting 61,123 signatures from registered voters by Feb. 5 for a “People’s Veto” referendum. If enough votes are certified, then the legislative delay would be stayed.
“Maine voters are determined to have ranked-choice voting in place, beginning with the June 2018 primaries,” said Kyle Bailey, campaign manager.
The ranked-choice system is designed to let voters rank their ballot choices from first to last in a system that supporters say ensures majority support for the winning candidate while eliminating the impact of spoilers and extremists who lack centrist appeal.
Maine became the first to adopt the election overhaul with a statewide vote in November 2016, but the state’s top court stymied implementation in legislative and gubernatorial races with an advisory opinion that concluded the voting system conflicts with a Maine Constitution mandate that candidates with the most votes, not a majority of votes, are the winners.
Because of the opinion, the governor’s race and legislative races will continue be settled with the current system that’s been in place since the late 1800s. But ranked-choice advocates pressed to implement the system for federal elections and primary elections.
State lawmakers who view two election systems as complicated and cumbersome voted last month to delay the ranked-choice voting law. It’ll eventually be repealed altogether unless ranked-choice advocates can win enough support to amend the Maine Constitution.
If the signature-gathering effort is successful, however, then the legislative delay would be stayed and ranked-choice voting would be allowed in June, where there’d be another vote.
Implementing such a system in a short timespan won’t be easy, but election officials are coming up with proposals, said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.
“We’re doing some back-of-the envelope planning on what we’ll have to do if they do turn in enough signatures,” he said.
The entire debate could have been thwarted with an amendment to the Maine Constitution, but that effort failed in the past legislative session.
Bailey said voters need not worry about a mad scramble to implement the system for the June primaries. In North Carolina, a statewide ranked-choice pilot program was implemented in 86 days before a judicial election, proving that it can be done swiftly, he said.
Under ranked-choice voting, the news media would declare unofficial results of which candidate received the most votes just like they currently do, but there would be a second round of tabulations by election officials in Augusta if no one receives a majority, Bailey said.
Under that scenario, it could take a few days to sort out the winner, but it’s still faster and cheaper than having a runoff election, he said.