Maine Senate to Seek Court Review of Ranked-Choice Voting

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Last November, Maine voters passed a referendum that would move to ranked-choice voting (RCV) for federal and state elections. Now, the state senate is preparing to declare a “solemn occasion” and ask the State Supreme Court review the constitutionality of the law – and RCV supporters aren’t happy. Maine Public has more:

The group that successfully convinced Maine voters to swap its current election system for one that allows voters to rank congressional, legislative and gubernatorial candidates says a request to review the constitutionality of the law is unprecedented and out of order.

The request by Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau appears on Thursday’s legislative calendar. It asks the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to rule whether the ranked choice system satisfies several requirements in the Maine Constitution. The questions posed to the court include whether ranked choice satisfies a provision in the Constitution that says a winner in an election is determined by a plurality of votes cast…

The constitutionality of ranked choice voting has been questioned ever since advocates for the system attempted to pass it through the Legislature two years ago. After those efforts failed, advocates used Maine’s citizen initiative process to put it before voters. 

The request by Thibodeau is what’s known as a solemn occasion — essentially a request by the Legislature to intervene and clarify a matter.  

The “solemn occasion” request, is just the latest flashpoint between supporters and opponents of RCV in Maine:

Under the election overhaul passed by voters in November, ballots are counted at the state level in multiple rounds. Last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by a majority.

Over 50 percent of voters approved the measure on Election Day…

In a press statement, Jamie Kilbreth, an attorney representing the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said court intervention into existing Maine law is unheard of.

“It is particularly troublesome since the proposed questions have no bearing on at least one of the critical components of the statute — federal elections,” Kilbreth wrote. “These particular questions improperly attempt to drag the Court into the political thicket of spending decisions the Legislature has to make routinely, as well as raising substantial separation of powers issues under Maine’s Constitution.”

The immediate thing to watch is if the Senate votes to make the “solemn request” and trigger court review. If that happens, the battle shifts to the Court, who will essentially have the final say on whether or not RCV is used in Maine, as expected, in 2018.

This story is fascinating on many levels: choice of voting method, role of referenda in election policy, constitutional law and separation of powers. Whatever happens (including nothing) will be a big story in Maine in 2018 and beyond.

Stay tuned …


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