Maine Democrats are on the cusp of passing a constitutional amendment proposal that seeks to expand the use of ranked-choice voting (RCV) in state elections.
Under RCV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of first-choice votes in the first round of voting, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and his votes are reallocated to the voter’s second-choice candidate. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes.
LD 1917 — which would expand the use of RCV to gubernatorial and state legislative races — was passed along party lines by the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs last month and will now head to the legislature for consideration “in the coming weeks,” according to the Associated Press (AP).
During the 2016 election, Maine voters approved the “Maine Ranked Choice Voting” ballot initiative by nearly 32,000 votes (52.1 to 47.9 percent). While the law was originally set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found in May 2017 that the use of RCV for state-level elections violated the Maine Constitution. To rectify the issue, the state legislature “approved a bill to delay implementation until December 2021 and repeal [the initiative] unless a constitutional amendment addressing concerns over the legality of ranked choice voting is passed.”
Supporters of the initiative, however, “collected and submitted enough signatures for a veto referendum targeting the repeal of the legislation to delay ranked-choice voting.” Mainers ultimately authorized the use of RCV for presidential and congressional elections during a June 2018 referendum vote.
According to the AP, LD 1917 must receive two-thirds majority support from the legislature before it can be sent to Maine voters for approval. While Democrats enjoy majorities in both chambers, they would need some Republicans to support the measure for it to pass.
Legislation seeking to repeal the use of RCV in Maine’s federal elections was introduced earlier this year but did not pass.
In a statement, Jason Snead, the executive director of the Honest Elections Project, encouraged Maine lawmakers to reject RCV in state elections, saying the “confusing” and “convoluted” system fosters “distrust among the electorate and can even disenfranchise voters.”
“Legislatures should be banning RCV, not expanding it. Mainers should urge their state legislators to protect clear and simple elections by opposing the unwise expansion of RCV,” Snead said.
Since the implementation of RCV in Maine, residents have witnessed firsthand how the system produces outcomes that contradict the desires of voters. During the 2018 midterms, then-incumbent GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin lost to Democrat Jared Golden, despite Poliquin winning the most votes in the first round of voting. That outcome was due to the state’s ranked-choice voting system.
This article has been updated to include a statement from Honest Elections Project Executive Director Jason Snead.