AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has set April 13 as the day it will hear oral arguments regarding the constitutionality of Maine’s ranked-choice voting system.

The court, which announced the date Tuesday in a procedural order, is acting in response to a 24-10 vote in the Maine Senate last week calling for the court to issue an informational opinion on the legality of ranked-choice voting. That voting method, which would apply in elections with three candidates or more and guarantee one of the candidates receives a majority of votes, was narrowly approved in a citizen-initiated referendum last November.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court must first weigh whether the question posed by the Senate represents a “solemn occasion,” and if it does, will proceed to weigh the legality of the ranked-choice voting referendum.

The Maine Constitution requires that candidates in elections with three or more voters receive only a plurality, which means more votes that the other candidates received but not necessarily a majority of all votes cast. The Constitution also says that ballots should be counted at the municipal level, which would make the calculations required for ranked-choice voting difficult or impossible.

The ranked-choice voting campaign sought to end the plurality elections that have decided nine out of the last 11 gubernatorial races, including Gov. Paul LePage’s wins in 2010 and 2014. It also would require the Maine secretary of state’s office to tally votes.

Solemn occasion requests have been considered by the high court at least 84 times in Maine’s history, according to research by the Maine Law and Legislative Reference Library.

The court has invited representatives from the governor’s office, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the secretary of state’s office and the attorney general’s office to submit written arguments in advance of the oral arguments.

Briefs are due by March 3 and responses to those briefs are due March 17. Oral arguments are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. April 13 at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said in a written statement Tuesday that lawmakers “desperately need guidance” from the court to avoid uncertainty in Maine’s election system.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.