January 20, 2018
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People’s veto threat adds intrigue to Maine’s ranked-choice voting fight

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Updated:
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
James Kilbreth, an attorney for ranked-choice voting supporters, speaks before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court at the Capital Judicial System in Augusta, April 13, 2017.

Proponents of ranked-choice voting, which was put on a path to its likely demise Monday by the Legislature, have vowed to revive the law with another citizen’s petition and to do it fast enough for ranked-choice voting to be used in next year’s elections.

The Legislature pretty much killed the concept Monday. The Legislature has long been known to tinker with successful citizen-initiated referendums, but it’s relatively rare to see one repealed outright. That’s not exactly what happened to the ranked-choice voting measure, but it’s not far from reality either. The bill sent to Gov. Paul LePage during Monday’s special legislative session delays implementation of ranked-choice voting until December 2021, but contains a provision to automatically repeal the law if the system isn’t brought into compliance with the Maine Constitution by then.

But hold on: Might we still use the system in next year’s elections anyway? Proponents of the system, which allows voters to choose multiple candidates in order of preference, have vowed a people’s veto of the bill that passed Monday. If successful, a people’s veto would revert Maine to the current ranked-choice voting system enacted last year. Kyle Bailey, who ran the 2016 campaign that convinced Mainers to support ranked-choice voting, said Tuesday during a radio interview on WVOM that he and others will launch a petition drive immediately to spur a people’s veto that would overturn the Legislature’s action. A looming people’s veto could freeze the voter-approved system in place to be used in next year’s elections, according to Bailey.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap says not so fast. Proponents of the people’s veto would have to collect close to or more than 61,123 signatures and submit them to the state. Dunlap, a Democrat, said that if his office estimated that they reached that threshold — even if all the signatures hadn’t been certified as registered Maine voters yet — the freeze on the current law would then go into effect. The law enacted Monday, if it is signed by LePage, will go into effect in 90 days.

“They’d have to collect the signatures by then [for the current law to be frozen],” Dunlap said. “That’s what the 90-day window provides for.”

Dunlap said paperwork for the petition drive has not yet been submitted to his office.

Meanwhile, proponents of ranked-choice voting are promising ramifications for lawmakers who voted against it. Sitting lawmakers could face primary challenges in the next election, according to Dunlap, who said he and some lawmakers already have been the target of “nasty” and “vitriolic” comments. With the votes now cast — here are the House and Senate roll calls — proponents know exactly who to target for lobbying and in next year’s elections.

Bailey said a people’s veto is ranked-choice voting’s best chance. Fixing the Constitution requires a statewide referendum, which first requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. It’s a high bar because changing the Constitution is supposed to be.

“This is why people don’t really trust government,” Bailey said. “They broke faith with Maine voters. Nearly 400,000 Maine people supported this and the Legislature rejected the will of the people.”


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