October 19, 2018
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Maine GOP must use ranked-choice voting in primary, judge rules

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Robert Gray steps out of the voting booth after he filled out his ballot at the Brewer Auditorium in this 2017 file photo. A federal judge on Tuesday threw out the Maine Republican Party’s bid to decide its primaries by a plurality of votes, ensuring that both parties will use ranked-choice voting in four different races in the June election.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A federal judge on Tuesday threw out the Maine Republican Party’s last-ditch bid to decide its primaries by a plurality of votes, ensuring that both parties will use ranked-choice voting in four different races in the June election.

The 20-page decision from U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy was the last legal hurdle that Maine’s voter-approved ranked-choice voting system had to clear before the June 12 primaries, where an open governor’s seat attracted seven Democratic candidates and four Republicans.

After a vote at their state convention in early May, Republicans sued Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to prevent the method from use in their primaries, saying it infringed on the party’s association rights. But state attorneys representing Dunlap called the lawsuit disruptive.

Levy agreed with the state on Tuesday, saying that Maine’s reasons for regulating primaries “are rational and survive constitutional scrutiny” and that if he adhered to Republicans’ stance, the state would have to “permit each political party to dictate how its primary ballots will be constructed and counted.”

By the time the lawsuit was argued in Portland last week, Mainers had begun voting using the new ranked-choice voting ballots because the state allows people to vote at municipal offices at least 30 days before an election.

Voters approved ranked-choice voting in 2016 despite constitutional concerns. It will be used in both gubernatorial primaries, a three-way race for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District and a three-way Republican primary for an open Maine House of Representatives seat in Turner, Leeds and part of Livermore.

On June 12, Maine will also vote on a people’s veto attempt that would nix a law passed by the Legislature last year that could delay ranked-choice voting until 2021 after previous constitutional concerns flagged by the state’s high court. The high court cleared the way for ranked-choice voting to be used in the primaries in an April decision.

In a statement, Kyle Bailey, who managed the 2016 campaign that passed ranked-choice voting and is running the people’s veto effort, said that “it’s time for the Maine people to rank their choices” and “stand up” to the Legislature. The Maine Republican Party hadn’t commented by Tuesday evening.

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