AUGUSTA, Maine — A push to have Maine’s attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer elected by voters stalled on Tuesday after only a narrow majority of the House of Representatives backed sending a proposed constitutional change to the ballot.
The bill from Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, would put the amendment before Maine voters to ask if they would prefer the secretary of state, the treasurer and the attorney general to be elected by a majority vote. The Maine Legislature — assembled together — currently picks those officeholders and it is the only state to pick an attorney general that way.
The bill was on a favorable track after it received a 27-7 vote in the Senate on Monday. The chamber also approved an amendment from Baldacci requiring those elections to use ranked-choice voting if more than three candidates are running.
But it stalled in the House on Tuesday in part because of that provision. The chamber initially passed an earlier version of the bill in a closely divided 74-68, which fell short of the two-thirds vote that would be required to send a constitutional amendment to voters. When the ranked-choice voting provision came up, the body rejected it in a 81-62 vote.
Baldacci’s push came after Democrats elected former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to the state auditor role, a position he was not yet qualified for but is allowed to learn on the job. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, was criticized by Republicans for taking the job after winning her former Maine Senate seat behind a publicly funded campaign in 2020.
Ranked-choice voting, which Maine approved for state primaries and congressional elections in a first-in-the-nation 2016 referendum, has also been opposed by most Republicans since U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District, beat Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin in an election decided by the voting method in 2018.
The issue does not fall cleanly along party lines. While Rep. William Tuell, R-East Machias, spoke out against the ranked-choice voting provision, some Democrats questioned whether allowing constitutional officers to be elected through traditional means is wise.
“I feel this is not something that is consistent with good government in the state of Maine,” said Rep. Chris Babbidge, D-Kennebunk, saying he thought it was dangerous for the attorney general to have to raise money for statewide support.
But proponents argued the bill was a compromise solution that could ultimately make elections for the officers more fair.
“I, for one, believe voters are a lot smarter than they get credit for,” said Rep. Kyle Bailey, D-Gorham, noting the issue would be decided by voters if the bill passed.