Petition drive puts ranked-choice voting on Maine ballot again

Photo: Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Maine Secretary of State’s office confirmed that advocates collected the requisite number of signatures to force a referendum question on ranked-choice voting.

Following the confirmation of signatures by the state’s highest election authority, Maine voters will decide in June whether to implement ranked-choice voting (RCV) in future elections, while using the RCV system for the first time statewide.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting gathered petitions for a “people’s veto,” allowing Mainers to overturn the state legislature’s vote to delay implementation of RCV, which was passed in 2016. Passage of that veto – and the subsequent use of RCV – will be placed before voters in June’s primary elections.

Under the RCV system, voters rank candidates by numerical preference. When one candidate fails to achieve a clear majority in the first round, election officials automatically begin a recount using the second tier of rankings until a winner receives a majority of the votes and a winner becomes clear.

The process is already used in Maine’s largest city, Portland, as well as others across the country including Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Cambridge, Mass.

The office of Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said on Monday that 66,687 signatures are valid, with another 10,618 ruled invalid. A total of 61,123 valid signatures were required to pass the people’s veto measure.

“The veto question will now go before voters at the primary election on June 12, 2018 and the primary elections for U.S. Senate, Governor, U.S. Congress, State Senate and State Representative will be decided by a system of ranked-choice voting,” according to a release.

Advocates contend the RCV system is a benefit to democracy as a whole because it encourages bids by third-party and independent candidates. Opponents say RCV can cause tabulation errors and voter confusion.

An RCV ballot initiative in Maine garnered 52 percent approval in November 2016, but the state legislature voted to delay its implementation until December 2021. The bill will be repealed entirely unless an amendment to the state constitution is passed by that date to accommodate legal issues, a hurdle that has been viewed as an attempt to kill the measure.

In order to ensure the veto reached voters, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting also filed a lawsuit last month in Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta that asked a judge to require Dunlap to place the question before primary voters. The suit is unnecessary now that enough signatures have been validated, which Dunlap said was possible when the suit was initally filed.

Kyle Bailey, Committee for Ranked Choice Voting campaign manager, said in a statement that the petition drive was carried out over 88 days in Maine’s coldest months to “insist on more voice and more choice in our democracy.”

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said Mainers “have once again spoken loudly and clearly” about their desire to utilize RCV.

“We are confident that the Secretary of State’s office will move forward in a responsible manner to implement RCV for the upcoming primary,” Bartlett said in a statement. “We hope that Republicans in the legislature will drop their senseless opposition to the peoples’ will and, instead, join with Democrats to provide the tools and funding necessary to fully support a smooth implementation of RCV in the coming months.”

Nine of the last 11 elections for Maine governor resulted in a winner who did not receive an overwhelming majority of votes, including Gov. Paul LePage, who received 37.6 percent of the vote total in 2010 and 48.2 percent in 2014.