AUGUSTA — A voter-approved law making Maine the first state in the nation to used ranked-choice voting for statewide elections will stay in effect until at least next year after two legislative efforts to repeal it were unsuccessful Wednesday.

The Legislature was attempting to respond to a May advisory opinion from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that found the parts of the law that applied to races for the governor’s office and Legislature were unconstitutional.

A House bill would have left ranked-choice voting in state primary elections and those for Maine’s congressional seats, but not for legislative and gubernatorial races unless the Legislature approved a constitutional amendment to allow ranked-choice voting and state voters ratified it.

The Senate version, which had Republican and Democratic support, would have repealed the ballot law completely.

Under Maine’s current voting system, candidates who get the most votes win are declared winners, even if they receive less than 50 percent of the vote in a race with three or more contestants.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If no one had more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process would continue until one candidate had a clear majority and was declared the winner.

Kyle Bailey, a spokesman for the Ranked Choice Voting Committee, which worked to pass the ballot measure last fall, said Wednesday he was glad the Legislature was unable to overturn the will of Maine voters.

“Last November, Maine people approved ranked-choice voting with the second largest vote in Maine history and today the Legislature did not stand in the way of implementing the will of the people,” Bailey said. “Unfortunately Legislature also didn’t address the issue of constitutional compliance, but that’s an issue that can be settled by the courts.”

Opponents of ranked-choice voting have said the campaign misled voters last fall, claiming the new law would be constitutional. The court’s opinion means that the results of any legislative or gubernatorial races using ranked-choice voting could face a legal challenge.

Bailey said the campaign believed the law would be constitutional. “Obviously the court has said they have concerns about ranked-choice voting in some of the elections,” Bailey said.

It would take a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to resurrect either repeal bill this year, but lawmakers will likely attempt to resolve the issue in the second half of the current session, which starts in January 2018. The first statewide election scheduled that will use ranked-choice voting will be the party primary races set for June 2018.

Some lawmakers also said Wednesday there may be an avenue to have a court issue a ruling on the law pre-emptively before its 2018 implementation date.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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