Ranked choice voting subject of 11th-hour appeal in Maine

September 3, 2020 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine’s supreme court heard 11th-hour arguments in an appeal aimed at stopping a GOP-led referendum on ranked choice voting and ensuring the voting system is used in the November presidential election.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office has contended the GOP fell short of collecting 63,068 valid signatures necessary for a statewide vote.

But the threshold was surpassed by 22 signatures when a judge allowed 988 signatures gathered by two people who didn’t register to vote until after they began collecting signatures. Dunlap has contended signature-gatherers must be registered to vote before they began collecting signatures.


The Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments Thursday afternoon. Phyllis Gardiner, arguing for the Maine Department of the Secretary of State, said two petitioners “did not meet these requirements at the time they collected signatures” and the high court should rule in the state’s favor.

But attorney Patrick Strawbridge, arguing in favor of the petitioners, said Maine law “requires that those voters be given their voice,” and the state’s motion should be denied.

“The people’s veto process represents an integral part of our state’s legal framework,” he said.

For now, the Superior Court justice’s decision means the ranked voting system cannot be used in a presidential election until Maine residents vote on it in November, though it will still be used on congressional races.

That judge’s decision last week left precious little time for appeal because Dunlap had said the deadline for collecting materials for printing ballots was Aug. 28. His office now says there’s wiggle-room in the deadline.

The voting system lets voters rank all the candidates in a political race in order of preference, from first to last on the ballot.

A candidate who reaches 50% or more is declared the winner. If there’s no majority, then there are additional tabulations, aided by computers, in which last-place finishers are eliminated and those voters’ second choices are reallocated to the remaining field.

Maine became the first state to adopt ranked choice voting in 2016, and it was used for the first time in congressional races in 2018. The state would become the first state in U.S. history to use ranked choice voting for president if it’s able to use the method in the race between Republican President Donald Trump and the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Supporters say the system eliminates the impact of so-called “spoiler candidates” and produces a majority winner without the need for an additional runoff election.

Critics say it’s unnecessarily complicated. They’ve also argued that it disenfranchises voters.

The constitutionality of the voting system has been twice upheld by a federal judge in Maine. But it’s not used the governor’s race or legislative contests because it runs afoul of the Maine Constitution.