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Court Rules Ranked-Choice Voting in ME Can Be Used In November

Maine is the first state to allow ranked-choice voting in presidential elections. It has been used in municipal elections for several years. (Gutzemberg/iStockphotos)
Maine is the first state to allow ranked-choice voting in presidential elections. It has been used in municipal elections for several years. (Gutzemberg/iStockphotos)
September 10, 2020

AUGUSTA, Maine -- Ballots with ranked-choice voting are being printed up in Maine for use on November 3, and that could have an outsize impact on who becomes president.

On Tuesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court put on hold the GOP backed "people's veto" of a law that allows ranked-choice voting in presidential contests.

John Brautigam, legal counsel for the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Maine, says voters now will be allowed to mark their choices in order of preference.

"It minimizes the problem where a candidate with less than 50% of the vote is able to be elected even though a majority of voters might have opposed that candidate," Brautigam said.

In ranked-choice voting, if no candidate gets a majority, the second-choice votes of the lowest-ranked candidate get redistributed. This avoids runoff elections and lets people vote for third-party candidates without worrying it will end up benefiting the candidate they oppose.

There are multiple scenarios where the presidential election could come down to one vote in the Electoral College.

Maine's Second Congressional District went for Trump in 2016, when there were six third-party candidates and no ranked-choice voting. Brautigam says the Second District could end up being the tiebreaker in 2020.

"It could really come down to one electoral vote," Brautigam said. "And the use of ranked-choice voting would help to make sure that whoever won that electoral vote in Maine's Second Congressional District had a true majority support of the voters."

Two weeks ago, a Superior Court judge ruled the "people's veto" initiative had enough valid signatures to make it onto the ballot, which would have prevented the use of ranked-choice voting for president in this election.

This week's clarification put the initiative on hold. The Republican Party of Maine, in a statement, noted the case is still active, so the Supreme Judicial Court could issue further rulings before the election.

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Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - ME