Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine GOP, speaks about efforts to repeal ranked-choice voting while standing next to boxes containing signed petitions near the State House, Monday, June 15, 2020, in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Maine judge ruled Monday that the state Republican party gathered enough valid signatures from voters to put a challenge to a new ranked-choice voting law on the November ballot, preventing the method’s use in this presidential election.

Superior Court Judge Thomas McKeon ruled Secretary of State Matt Dunlap improperly invalidated 988 signatures, just barely enough to qualify the effort for the ballot. If the decision stands, it will be the third time in four years that Maine will vote on ranked-choice voting.

Republicans have led opposition to the method since it first was passed here in 2016. It took an even more partisan turn after U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin lost his seat in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District to Democrat Jared Golden in 2018. Last year, the Democratic-led Legislature expanded ranked-choice voting to presidential elections, but Monday’s decision postpones the law at least until 2024 as voters decide whether to ax that new law.

“We said we would not stop fighting until the Secretary of State’s incorrect decision was overturned,” Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said in a statement.

Late Monday, Dunlap, a Democrat, said his office had not even begun to discuss how to address the ruling. It could appeal to Maine’s high court, but McKeon’s decision forces his office to put the measure on ballots that need to be printed by Friday.

“We have no idea where we’re going to go from here,” he said. 

The decision has the potential to change how Dunlap’s office validates petitions going forward, he said. It hinged on whether two petition circulators — those who sign and notarize forms — were registered voters in the towns they were collecting petitions in. The Maine Constitution requires circulators to be a resident of the state and registered to vote in their municipality.

Dunlap said he had interpreted that to mean people needed to be registered when they began aiding collection efforts, but McKeon ruled circulators can register afterward. That decision restored 988 signatures, which was 22 more than were needed to cross a threshold of just over 63,000 signatures, according to the decision.