October 16, 2018
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Maine lawmakers tuck ‘poison pill’ into ranked-choice voting bill

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Rep. Chris Johansen, R-Monticello, jokingly tries to vote on the issue of ranked choice voting in the Maine House of Representatives Monday morning while the electronic voting system was down.

The ranked-choice voting law enacted by voters in 2016 is in danger of full repeal following a series of votes Monday in the Legislature, but it has a stay of execution until December 2021.

The law, which was deemed partially unconstitutional earlier this year in an advisory opinion of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, has been at the center of controversy in the Legislature for months. Lawmakers adjourned this year’s regular session in August with the House and Senate in disagreement and unable to pass a bill.

But the two chambers agreed in preliminary votes Monday to delay implementation of the law until December 2021, as long as the Legislature can amend the law by then to bring it into constitutional compliance. A failure to do that would lead to a full repeal of ranked-choice voting.

Lawmakers returned to the State House on Monday with two other options: repeal the law or amend it so it conforms to the Maine Constitution. Monday morning, the House voted 74-64 in favor of a bill to limit the voting method to only primaries and congressional elections.

That solution skirted a provision in the Constitution that says gubernatorial and legislative elections can be won by a plurality — which simply means the highest number of votes — and not necessarily an overall majority.

Later in the day, the Senate voted 19-16 for an amendment to the bill that would delay implementation of the law until December 2021 — effectively putting off the use of ranked-choice voting until an election in 2022. That means it is very likely that ranked-choice voting as a concept will be decided by the next Legislature and governor.

That puts the two chambers at odds, which is the same stance they were in at the end of this year’s regular legislative session. After a series of failed motions, the House voted 73-65 to agree with the Senate.

Many of the arguments against delaying or repealing ranked-choice voting centered on what has become a familiar theme at the State House: Whether the Legislature should make changes to laws that resulted from citizen-initiated referendums.

“This is not something to ignore,” Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, said during Senate debate Monday. “Enough people spoke that we need to listen to that.”

But opponents warned that letting the citizen-initiated law stand would lead to disaster in elections in the courts afterwards.

Rep. Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth, who sponsored a bill that would have delayed implementation until only next year, said that would have been enough time.

“There is plenty of time to implement by June 2018,” Ackley said during floor debate. “We are not the first place in the country to do it. Certainly we’ll have the advantage of learning from elsewhere.”

Correction: A previous version of this story's headline was incorrect. Ranked-choice voting had not yet been delayed as of this article's posting.


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