Maine's Ranked Choice Voting first system to be put in place by voter referendum

  • By Ramona du Houx

     Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap on April 18, 2018 acknowledged the decision of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, issued April 17, 2017 evening, which confirms his department’s ongoing efforts to move forward with implementation of ranked-choice voting.

    “The people of Maine have once again spoken loudly and clearly: they want ranked choice voting,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett.

    The proponents of this veto effort submitted 14,026 petitions with 77,305 signatures to the Elections Division of the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. Elections Division staff have completed the process of certifying the petitions and found 66,687 valid signatures, while 10,618 were not valid. Petitions for this effort were issued on Nov. 6, 2017 and a minimum of 61,123 signatures from registered Maine voters is required.

    “The June 12, 2018 primary election will be conducted by ranked-choice voting,” said Secretary Dunlap. “That much is emphatically clear. The court’s decision states more than once that ranked-choice voting is the law of the State of Maine. That means we go forward.”

    The Maine Senate brought the legal action on April 3, raising multiple questions about Secretary Dunlap’s authority to implement ranked-choice voting and whether it is, indeed, the law in effect for the primary election. At the core of the issue are conflicting state statutes that govern whether the primary election winners will be determined using a plurality of votes or the ranked-choice counting method, which assures a majority winner.

    The court declined to address the complaint in its entirety, but did find that the plurality provision in Maine law (21-A section 723) “has been implicitly repealed by the most recent provision of law” and therefore, the ranked-choice voting method is in effect for the June 12 primary. The Maine Superior Court issued a similar ruling April 3, 2018.

    “The people of the State of Maine owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Supreme Court and the Superior Court for their incredibly swift and thorough work to resolve these lawsuits and the legal questions around ranked-choice voting,” said Secretary Dunlap.

    Secretary Dunlap’s office is currently finalizing the rules that will govern the ranked-choice voting process and centralized tabulation. In the coming weeks, the rules will be shared on the Maine Department of the Secretary of State Upcoming Elections webpage, along with a sample RCV ballot and educational materials for voters. An implementation schedule, timeline of ranked-choice voting in Maine, and the draft rules and comments are currently available online.

    “We are where we thought we were going to be,” said Secretary Dunlap, “and we are moving forward with all due dispatch.”

    Secretary Dunlap is now reviewing the options to securely transport the ballots and memory devices in a timely manner to a central location for tabulation. The Maine State Police had originally been approached to collect these materials, but expressed concern that current Maine law only authorizes them to collect for a recount. Secretary Dunlap is investigating the possibility of using a professional courier service, which would be held to the same standards of security regarding ballots and tabulator memory sticks. The strict chain of custody would remain in place, with elections materials transported in tamper-proof, locked and sealed containers, as always.

    “The integrity of the chain of custody is something we remain keenly focused on as we go forward,” said Secretary Dunlap.

    Implementation of ranked-choice voting is estimated to cost an additional $80,000 on top of typical expenses for the primary elections, plus an estimated $30,000 to $139,000 in ballot transportation costs for centralized tabulation.

     Ranked-choice voting was initially approved by the voters in November 2016; legislators voted for the delay/indefinite postponement due to constitutional conflicts in the ranked-choice voting law. The law would delay the implementation of ranked-choice voting until December 1, 2021 unless, prior to that date, the voters of the State ratify an amendment to the constitution of Maine; and would indefinitely postpone implementation if the constitutional change is not made. 

    The people's veto seeks a partial implementation of ranked-choice voting, as permitted by the Maine Constitution, for Maine's primary elections and for federal elections. If the ballot question is approved in June, ranked-choice voting would be used for the offices of U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress for the general election in November. If it is not approved, PL 2017, C.316 will take effect and ranked-choice voting will not be implemented, unless the voters amend the constitution as provided therein.