PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday rejected the Maine Republican Party’s 11th-hour bid to be exempted from ranked-choice voting, a system that will be used for the first time in a statewide primary election on June 12.
The Republican Party contended the imposition of ranked-choice voting infringed upon the party’s First Amendment rights, but U.S. District Judge Jon Levy concluded that the GOP didn’t prove its claim and that the system, which voters approved in a referendum in 2016, doesn’t impose a major burden.
The judge also wrote that letting parties decide their vote-tallying method in a state-run election could open the door to different systems being used by Greens, Democrats and Republicans.
“Permitting political parties to dictate how the (state) conducts ballot tabulation would pave the way for a far more complex primary election process and raises the specter of voter confusion associated with it, all of which the State has a legitimate interest in avoiding,” he wrote.
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The Maine GOP had contended that the winner should simply be the primary candidate with the most votes, but ranked-choice voting aims to ensure that the winner gets majority support through ballot rankings of candidates and multiple rounds of tallies, if necessary.
The GOP is considering an appeal of the ruling.
“Selecting nominees is the most important political activity of the party, and the party’s members have a First Amendment right to determine how that process works,” said Josh Dunlap, attorney for the GOP.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (no relation to Josh) said the ruling came as no surprise.
“The primary elections are conducted pursuant to state law and Judge Levy understood that allowing a party to choose which laws it follows for elections would set a national precedent,” he said.
Several cities around the country have used ranked-choice voting for municipal elections, but Maine will become a test case for how it can be used in statewide primary contests.
The system works like this: A voter ranks candidates from first to last, in order of preference. A candidate who gets a majority of first-place votes is the winner.
If no one wins a majority, then the last-place finisher is eliminated and that candidate’s second-place votes are reallocated for the next voting round. This process is repeated as many times as necessary until there’s a majority winner.
It’s too late to change the ballots for the June 12 primary elections, so the Maine GOP sought to have a winner declared after the first round of voting.
The system was scaled back and won’t be used in statewide general elections because Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court cited state constitutional concerns.
Then the Maine Legislature voted to delay implementation, necessitating a second referendum on June 12 to determine whether it’ll be used for federal races in the November general election.
The system is used in races with three or more candidates. In the governor’s race, four Republicans and seven Democrats are seeking the opportunity to be on the ballot in November. It’s also being used in the Democratic race in the 2nd District congressional race and the GOP race in House District 75.