Ranked-choice voting was approved by a majority of Maine voters last November. It’s now the law in Maine. Apparently, the law of the state and the will of the voters doesn’t matter to some in Augusta. Opponents of the law are currently working to undermine the law and delay its implementation, with the ultimate goal of repealing it.
Opponents of ranked-choice voting in the Maine Senate are expected to propose a procedural move that seeks to draw the Maine Supreme Judicial Court into a political debate that has already been settled by Maine voters.
The Legislature should not fall into the trap of questioning the integrity of our election system and the separation of powers. Lawmakers should vote against this seldom used move, Solemn Occasion, aimed at undermining this existing Maine law and the vote of the people.
In the legislative process when issues are too controversial and likely to result in blowback damage to legislators, action is deferred on them and they are sent to the voters to decide. If the referendum question is voted into law, there is little appetite in the Legislature to go against the “will of the people.”
During my eight years in the Senate, I sometimes found myself disagreeing with some citizen’s initiatives and people’s vetoes. But I always understood that my responsibility was to ensure that all laws enacted by the people were fully implemented on the timetable that was approved by the voters. There was no question in my mind that the people held the ultimate authority and that it was my privilege to serve them.
Article 1, Section 2 of the Maine Constitution reads: “All power is inherent in the people: all free governments are founded in their authority and instituted for their benefit; they have therefore an unalienable and indefeasible right to institute government and to alter, reform, or totally change the same when their safety and happiness require it.”
There it is in black and white, just below the preamble: the people have the authority to alter, reform, and totally change the system used to elect their leaders. And that’s exactly what happened last November when the people approved Question 5.
Ranked-choice voting was debated in the public arena for two years before the people spoke. Its pros and cons were debated for all to know. There was no geographic region, no media format and no social opportunity that was excluded from this question. Personally, my support for it resided in my belief that a basic tenet of our democracy is that the majority decides.
On Election Day, the people spoke. How often does it happen that nearly 400,000 Republicans, Democrats, independents, Greens and Libertarians from across the state come together to enact nonpartisan reform?
Now it is incumbent upon the Legislature and the executive branch to respect the will of the people and implement ranked-choice voting in full for the 2018 election. Stop trying to undermine it. Recognize it and affirm it for what it is — the will of the people. The success of this initiative should inspire us to seek other reforms that empower voters and strengthen our institutions.
It is my hope that senators will reject this last ditch effort by opponents, who lost at the ballot box, to stall implementation of the people’s will.
Dennis Damon represented Hancock County in the Maine Senate from 2002 to 2010. He lives in Trenton.