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Senate steps into ranked choice voting controversy

"If we don't get this matter settled, we are headed for chaos in our election system," Senate President Mike Thibodeau said in a written statement, "and that is a huge disservice to the people of Maine."
Credit: NEWS CENTER Maine

AUGUSTA (NEWS CENTER Maine) — The Maine Senate voted Monday night to attempt to insert itself into the current debate over ranked choice voting (RCV).

A superior court judge is considering a request from RCV supporters for an injunction to force the secretary of State to use ranked choice in the June 12 primary elections. The judge held a hearing on the request Friday, and promised to rule promptly.

Ranked choice voting goes back to court

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 21-13 Monday to authorize the Senate president to take legal action if needed. Thibodeau spoke on the Senate floor and later said in a written statement, "If we don’t get this matter settled, we are headed for chaos in our election system, and that is a huge disservice to the people of Maine."

Thibodeau and other Senate Republicans argue that the secretary of State lacks the authority to implement a new voting system without approval from the state legislature.

Democrats are slamming GOP senators for the vote, saying they are trying to thwart the will of the people.

Maine voters passed a referendum for RCV in 2016, but a year ago the Maine Supreme Court determined part of that new law was unconstitutional. Lawmakers were unable to agree on changes, and only passed a bill to delay implementation of RCV for three years.

New ranked choice worries could threaten vote

That law was basically set aside by a people’s veto petition by RCV supporters, which forces a new referendum vote in June. It also appears to revert to the language of the original referendum, requiring RCV to be used in the June 12 primary.

Last week, just one day after the secretary of State announced the rules for using RCV, he announced that a problem had been discovered: a conflict between the law passed by voters and the previous election law. He said those two laws require different standards for counting votes to determine election winners.

The court has been asked to declare that RCV should be used.

The Senate Republicans reportedly have a lawyer ready to ask the court to intervene, or potentially take other legal action. It isn’t known if Democrats will also choose to get involved.

The secretary of State has said the matter needs to be decided quickly, and that the integrity of Maine’s voting system needs to be protected.