POLITICS & VOTING

‘Powerful Moment’: State Supreme Court Ruling Will Likely Make Maine First in US History to Use Ranked-Choice in Presidential Election

“This ruling is the latest victory for voters who want more consensus, more choice, and a greater voice,” one advocate said.

Lisa Newcomb
Sep 22, 2020 · 4 min read

Ranked-choice voting advocates praised a state Supreme Court ruling in Maine on Tuesday that positions voters there to be the first in U.S. history to employ the practice in a presidential election.

“This is a victory for every Mainer who sat around kitchen tables and in basements years ago, wondering how we could ensure more votes would be heard in our elections,” Anna Kellar, executive director of the League of Women Voters, said in a statement following the decision. “It is a victory for the voters who showed up, year after year, affirming ‘yes, this is the reform we want for our state.’ We are proud to have been part of this next step in our nation’s history of better elections.”

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court overturned a lower court ruling that would have blocked the use of ranked-choice voting (RCV) in the presidential contest on November 3. Maine’s Republican Party has spearheaded attempts to prevent the use of RCV—which voters approved in 2016 and again in 2018—and the court’s historic opinion was the latest in a blow to GOP efforts.

A lower court ruled that Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap erroneously invalidated signatures collected for a “people’s veto” referendum on RCV, which Dunlap did according to state law that requires signature gatherers to be registered to vote in the towns where they circulate referendum petitions. Republicans argued Dunlap had disenfranchised voters by invalidating the signatures collected by non-registered voters, per state law.

“It is wonderful that Mainers will be able to use ranked-choice voting in presidential elections,” Betsy Sweet, a former U.S. Senate and Maine gubernatorial candidate who helped pass RCV in the state, told Tuesday. “It is disheartening that the Republicans continue to try and take away the expansion of democracy that ranked-choice voting represents, even after Mainers voted for it time and time again. I am glad the will of the people is being honored. Ranked-choice voting is an important, positive contribution to democracy.”

Tuesday’s ruling came on the heels of a op-ed in favor of RCV from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) in the last week. Citizens in Massachusetts and Alaska will vote on implementing the process in their states in November, as will residents of cities in California, Colorado, and Minnesota.

“Ranked-choice voting can make our elections more positive and require successful candidates to build broad coalitions,” Warren and Raskin wrote. “It can ensure that everyone’s vote counts and open the door to elections that more fairly represent the electorate. Most important, ranked-choice voting can make sure that the winning candidates have successfully appealed to the majority of the voters. That’s a stronger democracy.”

Proponents of RCV echo that sentiment, and say that it allows for more equitable elections, more positive campaigning, and eliminates the “spoiler” effect of crowded races.

The RCV process allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Under the system, if no candidate wins the approval of more than half the voters after the first round of tabulation, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. When a voter’s first choice is eliminated, their vote is redistributed to the voter’s second choice. This process continues until one candidate gets at least 50% of vote.

“This ruling is the latest victory for voters who want more consensus, more choice, and a greater voice,” Evan Falchuk, chair of the board for Yes on 2, the RCV ballot initiative campaign in Massachusetts, told Tuesday. “Ranked-choice voting is popular, effective, constitutional and best reflects the will of the majority of voters.”

“This is a powerful moment for ranked choice voting supporters,” Rob Richie, president and CEO of FairVote, said in response to the ruling. “Voters will, for the first time, use ranked-choice voting to elect the highest office in the country.”

“America was founded on the promise that your vote matters,” Richie continued. “We haven’t always lived up to that promise, but over time, our nation’s citizens strived to ensure that every vote counts. This is a moment of celebration for those who advocated for ranked-choice voting in Maine, and also a moment of inspiration for every American who will look to Maine and realize they could bring ranked-choice voting to their state.”

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