Maine Primaries Could Use New Ranked Voting System

Feb 2, 2018

Advocates of ranked choice voting are celebrating today, as they submitted signatures that restore a law passed two years ago in Maine.

Two years ago, supporters of ranked choice voting were able to pass a citizens’ initiative that changed how elections are decided in Maine, but the initiative ran into some roadblocks. The state Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion concluding that there were constitutional problems with the initiative. The legislature then suspended ranked choice voting in order to consider a constitutional change to clear the way for the initiative. An effort to get a constitutional amendment out to the voters fell short, so ranked choice voting supporters turned to another section of the constitution, the so called “people’s veto,” and collected enough signatures to restore the suspended law.

“The state of Maine belongs to we the people,” Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for the group, told supporters at the State House Friday. “Augusta politicians grabbing power for themselves and their well-connected friends and their big campaign contributors will not stand. We are here today to shift power back to Maine people and away from special interests.”

Kyle Bailey
Credit Mal Leary / Maine Public

Several supporters, including Cushing Samp of Saco, told stories of standing out in this winter’s very cold weather to collect signatures, even when the ink in their pens froze.

Samp also addressed the crowd, asking, “Was it worth it?” The crowd answered with a resounding yes.

Supporters turned in what they say are 80,000 signatures. They need just over 61,000 to force a vote on whether to overturn the law that suspended ranked choice voting. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said his office has 30 days to certify signatures.

“Was it circulated by a registered voter?” Dunlap said. “Was it signed by a registered voter and was it properly notarized and then verified by a town clerk? We just check all that work and if that all comes together, then the signature is good.” If the signatures are valid, then a vote will take place in June.

In the meantime, and if there are enough signatures, Dunlap will also have to gear up for a very different autumn primary election in which voters will rank their choices. For example, voters will rank governor candidates in order of preference, until one candidate garners a majority of the votes.

Dunlap said he believes the system can be put in place, but that it will be difficult.

“This is a little bit like Luke Skywalker blowing up the death star,” he said. “You get one pass. We have about four months to pull this off and there is no opportunity for a dry run.”

If the signatures are certified, Dunlap said he will need about a $1.5 million from the legislature to create the system to implement the ranked choice voting process.