AUGUSTA (NEWS CENTER Maine) — A judge in Augusta is expected to decide early next week on the latest court challenge to Maine’s ranked-choice voting (RCV) law. But that may not be the final word.
The Republican-controlled Senate has asked the court to decide if the Maine Constitution will allow ranked choice to be used in the June primary.
The secretary of state raised questions last week about an apparent conflict between the 2016 RCV law passed by voters and Maine’s existing election law, saying the state legislature had never resolved the conflicts. That resulted in a court challenge by RCV supporters.
Justice Michaela Murphy ruled Wednesday that ranked choice should go forward as planned by the secretary of state and be used in the June 12 primary election. But shortly before that ruling, the Republican-controlled Senate passed an order to allow the Senate president to challenge ranked choice, based on new constitutional concerns.
Sen. Roger Katz, D-Augusta, said there are constitutional issues that need to be resolved before RCV can be used. He said the biggest concern is about the secretary of state’s plan to have ballots and voting machine “memory sticks” from all the towns and cities brought to Augusta to be counted for ranked choice.
Sen. Katz said the state constitution is clear that votes are to be counted by local election officials.
“The current proposal for ranked choice voting by the secretary of state," Katz said, "would have ballots coming from 500 municipalities all over the state delivered to Augusta and counted, not be local clerks locally, but by the secretary of state or under his direction. Maybe that ought to be OK as policy, maybe it shouldn’t. But to do that we would have to change our constitution and we haven’t changed it."
Democrats say those worries are unfounded and are just an effort by the GOP to stop ranked choice from being used.
"We just disagree that this couldn’t go forward," said Senate Democratic leader Troy Jackson. "We are dismayed there seems to be an attempt to run out the clock on the primary for a law they don’t agree with they don’t want they don’t like."
Several of the Democratic candidates for governor and Congress are asking to join the court case to support ranked-choice voting. The judge is expected to decide early next week whether to send the dispute directly to the Maine Supreme Court.
Town and city elections officials say absentee voting begins May 12, meaning the secretary of state has just over a month to get all the new rules in place and have ballots printed and distributed prior to the start of voting.