In this Nov. 12, 2018, file photo, ballots are prepared for tabulation in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “That’s another thing that allowed New Brunswickers to really hear those messages and comply and cooperate,” Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said of the Canadian province’s decision-making and communication on the coronavirus. While Maine has one of the lowest case rates in the U.S., it towers above the neighboring province.

What we’re watching today

It feels like Groundhog Day, but it is not: Ranked-choice voting is in court again today. The argument we will hear today in federal court concerns whether the voting method in use since 2018 disenfranchises voters who do not use their ability to choose a second candidate. Opponents have specifically contended that older voters and those with lower education levels are affected, while similar arguments have been tried and rejected by judges in the past.

They have asked a federal judge to make a swift decision without a trial, but may have a hard time convincing the bench that they could win without one. The judge hearing the case is U.S. District Court Judge Lance E. Walker, an appointee of President Donald Trump who upheld the system after former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin challenged it in 2018. 

Time is of the essence in this case with ballots due to be printed soon and more legal volleys to come. Ballots for the November election need to be printed by the end of the month. This challenge comes as the Maine Republican Party is appealing Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s ruling that their signature-gathering effort to repeal a law expanding the method to presidential elections failed. It will now be up to Dunlap to review the 11,000 signatures he discounted again. The effort only needs 2,000 more signatures to be considered valid.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Janet Mills signals her aversion to job cuts or reduced education aid in budget overhaul,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The Democratic governor looks to be trying to reassure state employees and others that her request for most department heads to identify 10 percent cost reductions — programs funded by the transportation budget have been asked to identify 5 percent reductions — will not result in seismic changes in government. Many are skeptical.” 

— “Maine considers supplying absentee ballot drop boxes amid pandemic, mail delays,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “On Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, said on a Maine Public call-in show that the state was considering further election changes, the most notable being setting up drop boxes in every town so voters could return their ballots without relying on the mail or interacting with anyone, but there is a backlog in production and the state is trying to find a manufacturer..”

— “Parents don’t think students will follow schools’ COVID-19 rules, survey says,” Eesha Pendharkar, BDN: “The results come as schools across Maine settle on reopening plans for the fall. Most expect to deploy some combination of in-person and remote learning, even though the state has given the green light for schools in every Maine county to reopen full-time in person.”

Washington no closer to a stimulus agreement

Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on what should be included in a coronavirus relief package. The White House seems to think it has the upper hand in negotiations after President Donald Trump to executive action over the weekend, but the effects of his orders look to be minimal for now — most states, Maine included, are unsure about how to proceed on expanding unemployment benefits through an emergency program, and the payroll tax cut is just a payroll tax delay for now.

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation have highlighted initiatives including aid to state and local governments and assistance for the U.S. Postal Service, neither of which have gained significant traction among Republicans. With August recess on the horizon, it now seems likely that the two sides might not reach a deal until September. Here’s your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...