AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Maine voters will be faced with a whole lot of candidates next year, and some of those races may be decided using ranked choice voting (RCV).
Ranked choice has voters rank multiple candidates in order of preference. Votes are counted and low-ranked candidates are eliminated until one candidate has more than 50 percent.
The system was approved by Maine voters in a 2016 referendum. But the Maine Supreme Court justices said they believe the law violates the state constitution, which only requires a plurality of votes for governor and the legislature.
The court opinion suggested ranked choice could be used for primary elections and federal races, unless there is a change to the constitution. That hasn't happened, and lawmakers voted in October to delay the law until 2021. If a constitutional amendment isn't passed by then, the law would be automatically repealed.
Supporters of RCV are fighting back.
"This is something we can do now with the people's veto to send a message to the legislature that we insist on having more voice and more choice in our democracy," said Kyle Bailey, leader of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting.
That group has started a people's veto petition drive to block the law passed by the legislature, and force another statewide vote on the issue in June.
If they get the needed signatures by Feb. 2, the delay passed by the legislature would be put on hold, and instead, the original RCV law passed by voters last year would take effect. The immediate impact would be in the June 2018 primaries, where races with three or more candidates would be decided by ranked choice voting.
Opponents of RCV, including Republican state Sen. Ron Collins, claim supporters should instead work to change the constitution.
"… and that's the reason we gave them until 2021 to do that, to make those changes," Sen. Collins said.
Democratic state Sen. Bill Diamond, who is also a former Maine secretary of state, said he also supports changing the constitution for RCV. Sen. Diamond using ranked choice in the primary could have a real impact on those campaigns, and possibly lead to lawsuits from losing candidates, since the law has not been truly tested in the court.
"It really is uncharted territory," Diamond said.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has said it would cost $1.5 million to use ranked choice voting for the primary. Dunlap said his office has been making plans to implement RCV if needed, but that many details still need to be worked out.