December 12, 2017
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A divided Maine Legislature will decide the fate of ranked-choice voting

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Christopher Cousins | BDN file | BDN
Christopher Cousins | BDN file | BDN
Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives watch votes tally on an amendment to the biennial state budget on June 16, 2015 at the State House in Augusta.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The implementation of ranked-choice voting hangs in limbo. The system, which election reform advocates have called a “better way to vote,” could be headed back to voters or could die at the hands of the Legislature, depending on what happens with two 11th-hour bills allowed into the legislative process on Thursday.

Maine voters approved a change to ranked-choice voting last year after supporters gathered enough signatures to place it on the November ballot. But that law was ransacked this week in an advisory decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which said the voting method would be in violation of the Maine Constitution. The Constitution states that Maine elections can be won by plurality. That means in a contest with more than two candidates, whoever receives the most votes wins even if that person doesn’t receive a majority of all votes cast.

In a ranked-choice system, voters choose multiple candidates and rank them in order of preference. A winner is declared if a majority picks a candidate as their first choice. But if not, the candidate with the lowest share of first-place votes is eliminated and second-place votes for that candidate are reallocated, a process that will be repeated until a majority is won.

Senate Republicans and Democrats are approaching the issue from different angles. Legislative leaders on Thursday unanimously approved the introduction of two after-deadline bills from Sen. Catherine Breen, D-Falmouth and Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls.

Neither is written yet, but Breen’s bill would seek an amendment to the Maine Constitution that would bring it into compliance with the citizen-initiated bill from last year. That would require two-thirds approval by the Legislature and a win during another statewide referendum. Mason’s bill would repeal ranked-choice voting altogether.

Because of split majorities in the Legislature, either bill will need bipartisan support to move forward.

The introduction of both bills received unanimous support Thursday by the Legislative Council, which is made up of 10 legislative leaders from both chambers, but that says nothing about where the votes will fall when the bills come into the process. There was consensus that on an issue as important as this, both bills deserve public hearings and consideration.

With the statutory deadline for adjournment just a few weeks away, they’ll have to be on the fast track. Expect committee hearings next week or the week after at the latest and for ranked-choice voting to be another contentious issue as weary lawmakers strive to complete their work by June 21.

This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.

 


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