National Republicans largely funded the Maine party’s unsuccessful effort to repeal a law applying ranked-choice voting to the 2020 presidential election, but the effect of the method is likely to be muted in November with just one third-party candidate on the ballot so far.
Maine will become the first state to use ranked-choice voting for a presidential election after Secretary of State Matt Dunlap announced Wednesday that the Maine Republican Party did not collect enough valid signatures to put a people’s veto question on the November ballot.
Republicans signaled a challenge on Thursday and it must be made within 10 days of the decision. If the ruling stands, it will be an expensive loss for Republicans on a high-dollar effort mostly financed by the national party as it looks to shield President Donald Trump in November.
Unenrolled candidates have until July 25 to qualify for the ballot. Backers of Libertarian Jo Jorgensen and perpetual candidate Rocky de la Fuente are still collecting signatures. For now, only Howie Hawkins, the Green Party nominee, will join Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, are set to be on Maine’s November ballot.
Ranked-choice counts only apply when candidates fail to reach 50 percent in a first round of voting. It may have altered things in 2016, when Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton ran alongside four other candidates who collectively received 55,000 votes in Maine. Clinton won statewide by 22,000 votes but lost one elector from the 2nd Congressional District to Trump.
Jorgensen and Hawkins only registered at high marks of 3 percent and 2 percent support in national polls conducted in July, according to a FiveThirtyEight archive. If that holds, the margin between Trump and Biden would have to be thin for their voters to swing the race.
A political committee funded mostly by the Maine Republican Party spent more than $500,000 collecting signatures for the initiative while receiving $95,000 of in-kind contributions in the form of payroll from the state party itself. Most went toward paying signature gatherers.
The efforts were financed in large part by the Republican National Committee. Transfers from the federal party account for most of Maine Republicans’ state-level fundraising this year. A federal committee maintained by the state party got $716,000 in transfers from the RNC this year, including $431,000 in January and February as signature gathering kicked off.
Those totals represent just a drop in the ocean of spending for the national party, which has raised more than $300 million in the last two years, primarily in joint fundraising efforts with President Donald Trump’s campaign through an organization called Trump Victory.
Nina McLaughlin, spokesperson for the RNC and Trump Victory, said the petition gathering was “definitely a Maine GOP effort.” She called Dunlap’s decision “disappointing” and said the party is looking to overturn the ruling and salvage the ballot measure.
The referendum would have been the third ranked-choice ballot question for Maine voters in four years. Voters previously approved the new voting system in 2016 and reaffirmed it after challenges from the Legislature in 2018. If it had made the ballot, ranked-choice would not have been used in the November presidential election.
Support for ranked-choice voting in Maine has largely fallen along partisan lines, which were only amplified in 2018 when U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District, edged out Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin. An exit poll by the Bangor Daily News and the electoral reform group FairVote that year found 81 percent of Democrats wanted to expand ranked-choice voting while 72 percent of Republicans wanted to stop using it.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the deadline for unenrolled candidates to qualify for Maine’s presidential ballot. It is July 25. A reporter was given incorrect information.