Updated Report On Maine’s Initiative For Ranked Choice Voting

By Jon Olsen co-chair, Maine Green Independent Party
November 16, 2017

A year ago, we in Maine, and especially we Greens who have worked to promote the issue of ranked choice voting (RCV) for at least 20 years, celebrated a huge victory after it passed with 52% approval in our citizen’s initiative that made it law. However, shortly thereafter, our opponents, for apparent personal or partisan reasons, sought the advice of the Maine Supreme Court regarding its constitutionality, a challenge relying on the distinction between “plurality” and “majority.” The public hearing where the matter was argued was packed, myself in attendance as well. The full court took several weeks to deliberate, and came back with an advisory “opinion,” not a “ruling,” as there was no case involved,that in the races where the Constitution stated “Plurality,” RCV would likely be ruled unconstitutional. Unfortunately for us Greens, that included the race for governor and legislators in the general election. Primaries were not affected.

So, this year in the Maine legislature, two competing bills were introduced: one would amend the Constitution so that all races would be Constitutional; the other sought to repeal RCV altogether. Both failed, leaving the law in place. So far so good. However, that left the law on shaky Constitutional grounds, so a special session was held. One hundred people signed up to testify, including myself and two other Maine Greens. One person testified against. Several alternatives were proposed, and the worst of them was enacted by relatively slim majorities, namely that the entire RCV would be postponed until 2021, and then repealed unless the Constitution was amended, which can only be done by 2/3 of the legislature itself. This happened about 2 weeks ago.

Yet our laws allow us to veto their veto! Accordingly, after the governor, who certainly liked the final result of the legislature, as it was very unlikely that he would have won under RCV, neither signed nor vetoed the bill in order to “run out the clock” on our being able to mount a petition drive on this election day (Nov.7th). The bill became law without his signature a day or two before election day. But, and credit must be given, the Sec.of State prepared the final wording for our petition to overturn the very law the legislature had just passed in special session. I got my petitions delivered to my door the evening before election day, as did some 400 people throughout Maine by the great team of Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. In my small town over 5 hours, I was able to get 50 signatures, exactly filling 2 sheets, which have now been notarized and are at the town office for verification. My work partner for the day also got another 50. In places with larger populations hundreds were obtained–all together, 32-35,000 were obtained on that day, half of what we need (61,123) valid signatures to achieve the People’s Veto. We need to get the balance by mid December.

If we succeed, RCV will be used in the primaries in June next year and for other races where no issue of Constitutionality exists. At that time we also hope to weed out many of the opponents so that a true Constitutional amendment can be passed, changing that single word. Stay tuned.