Welcome back to the horse race!

Six months after Maine voters got rid of the first-to-the-post electoral system that made Paul LePage a two-term governor without ever cracking 50 percent in any poll, the state Supreme Court, in all its wisdom, has overruled them.

Ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional, according to the justices. But since lying, demonizing and bullying are all still OK, we can look forward to an exciting 2018 campaign.

The court answered one question: In a multi-candidate race, is it OK to have multiple rounds of vote-counting where a voter’s second or third choice can help form a majority, even though the Maine Constitution says certain elections must be decided by “a plurality”? Their answer was “no.”

But that leaves a long series of other questions unanswered.

The first ones fall to the Legislature, which will have to do something about the law that’s been on the books since voters passed it. The court issued an advisory opinion that has no force of its own. Lawmakers have a range of options before them, including honoring the will of the voters by approving a constitutional amendment that would make the ranked-choice voting pass constitutional muster. But since legislators tend to think that voters don’t know what they are doing (unless they are voting for their favorite legislator), that seems like a long shot.


They could repeal just the part of the law that the justices found fault with – the election of a governor, state senator or representative – and leave the new system in place in all primaries and the general elections for members of Congress.

Or they could repeal the whole thing and start over, making pretty sure that the electoral system that gave us LePage will stay in place for the next gubernatorial race, shrinking the amount of support needed to win.

Because let’s be clear: They can make ranked-choice voting go away, but they can’t make the reasons people put ranked-choice voting on the ballot go away. They will be on display next year.

LePage showed that in Maine’s balkanized political environment, you don’t need a broad coalition to finish first. In 2010, LePage only had the support of about one-third of Republican voters when he ran away with a seven-way primary, and only 37.6 percent of the vote when he won the general election in a five-way race.

Maine is ripe for the same thing to happen next year, but this time from the left.

In some ways, 2018 is shaping up as the mirror image of 2010, the year LePage caught the tea party wave. President Trump is far less popular than Barack Obama was that year, and left-leaning activists are more organized than the tea partiers were back then.


Last year’s presidential vote tallies in Maine show that there is an opportunity for a minority candidate from the progressive-left to do what LePage did in 2010. You’ll recall that Hillary Clinton won the statewide vote, even though she got smoked in the more conservative 2nd Congressional District. That cost her one electoral vote, but there is no such penalty in the race for governor.

It’s conceivable that a candidate with a Bernie Sanders-type agenda – free college tuition, say, or universal health coverage – could run up the vote in the more populous southern part of the state and let the other candidates divide up what’s left. Is there someone like that out there? Who knows, but how many people had heard of Paul LePage in the spring of 2009?

The biggest loser here may be State Treasurer Terry Hayes, the former Democrat who has announced that she is running as an independent with the fundraising support of two-time gubernatorial hopeful Eliot Cutler.

In a ranked-choice system, Hayes would have a chance to talk about her ideas for governing the state and compare them to the other contenders’ proposals. She would have been every other candidate’s best friend because no contender would risk alienating her voters.

Now, until Hayes wins the election or concedes defeat, she will not have a single interview in which she is not asked whether she is a “spoiler” for the Republican candidate. Cutler’s failure to answer that question dominated coverage of the 2014 race.

All of this would change, of course, if Sen. Susan Collins decides to come home and run for governor. She would be the clear favorite in any race, and her presence would probably narrow the field. But barring her entry – she says she will make a decision in the fall – this is likely to be a tight race for the angriest (and most motivated) chunks of the electorate.


Thanks, Maine Supreme Judicial Court! It’s almost post time.

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Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @gregkesich

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