Maine will be the first state to allow voters to rank their choices in presidential elections, starting with the November 2020 election. Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat, announced in a statement on Friday that she would allow the bill passed recently by the state’s legislature to become law — albeit without her signature.
The move allows the state’s legislature unfettered control over the bill.
In 2016, Maine voters approved ranked voting, but thus far it has only been used for federal elections and primaries. A controversial election result emerged in 2018 as Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin was defeated in his reelection bid in spite of having more votes than declared winner Democrat Jared Golden.
“My experience with ranked-choice voting is that it gives voters a greater voice and it encourages civility among campaigns and candidates at a time when such civility is sorely needed,” said the governor. “At the same time, there are serious questions about the cost and logistics of ranked-choice voting, including collecting and transporting ballots from more than 400 towns in the middle of winter, and questions remain about the actual impact of this particular primary on the selection of delegates to party conventions. At the time the bill authorizing presidential primaries was enacted in late June, the Senate decided to hold L.D. 1083 because of its fiscal impact on state and local governments. In enacting this bill late in the day on August 26, the Senate did not add any appropriation, nor did it clarify how the will of the voters would be reflected in the selection of delegates and in the ultimate nomination of a candidate for President.”
“By not signing this bill now, I am giving the Legislature an opportunity to appropriate funds and to take any other appropriate action in the Second Regular Session to fully implement ranked-choice voting in all aspects of presidential elections as the Legislature sees fit,” Governor Mills continued. “I thank the sponsors of L.D. 1083 for presenting this bill and I am optimistic about the ability of political parties in Maine to implement ranked-choice voting at every level in an inclusive and fiscally responsible way in the upcoming presidential election year.”
Under the ranked voting system, voters designate candidates from favorite to least favorite. If a candidate does not tally an initial majority of votes, the last-place finisher is eliminated and the second-favorite choice of those voters who cast first-choice votes for the eliminated candidate are allocated, and so on, until someone receives more that 50 percent.
In a lawsuit following the 2018 election, Poliquin claimed that ranked voting is unconstitutional because its unique runoff system produces a “faux majority” winner of elections and confuses voters. U.S. District Judge Lance Walker decided that critics may question the wisdom of ranked-choice voting, but that such criticism “falls short of constitutional impropriety.”
Friday night, Maine Republican Party officials said they are “exploring their options” in the wake of the governor’s decision to allow ranked voting in presidential elections.
Ranked voting is an idea that has a growing support base in Democrat-run jurisdictions. According to FairVote, Cambridge, Massachusetts and St. Paul, Minnesota are among the two dozen cities that are planning to use the system in certain coming elections.
Kansas, Nevada, and Wyoming are among states set to use ranked voting in Democrat Party presidential primaries in 2020.
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