AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Maine voters passed a law last November to require ranked choice voting for major elections, starting next year. But the president of the Senate, the attorney general and others have asked if that law violates the Maine Constitution.
The Maine Supreme Court now has a chance to answer the Senate's question. The court heard arguments Thursday from all sides of the ranked choice issue.
Senate Republicans said they need guidance from the justices on whether the law is constitutional so they can decide what action to take. Legislators said they need to either provide millions of dollars to implement the law or, if it violates the constitution, propose a constitutional amendment to fix it.
Ranked choice supporters, however, said the law is the will of Maine voters and that many experts contend there is no constitutionality problem.
Legal briefs were provided by the various sides of the issue, including several for the attorney general and secretary of state. Individual lawyers and law professors also weighed in on the issue for their own reasons. Eleven different attorneys provided legal briefs in the case.
The two core issues argued Thursday focused on whether the court has the legal authority to offer an opinion in the case — by declaring "solemn occasion," as requested by the Senate — and if it does choose to be involved, does the new law pass muster with the constitution?
The Maine Constitution requires elections to be decided by a plurality of votes cast, meaning the winner is the one who receives the most votes. Ranked choice voting, on the other hand, is designed to have a candidate achieve a majority – more than 50 percent of the votes. That apparent conflict is driving part of the debate.
The justices did not decide either question Thursday, and will likely take a week or more to render opinions. The result of those deliberations could have a significant impact in the Legislature and on the 2018 elections. Legislators said they need to make significant decisions about the new law, including spending several million dollars for computer systems and programs to implement ranked choice voting.
Several Senators told NEWS CENTER the Legislature may also need to change the constitution to comply with the new law. That would likely create a major battle in the State House, where there is reported to be a significant number of Republicans who oppose ranked choice voting.
A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority to pass before being sent to Maine voters.