When it comes to ranked-choice voting, Maine lawmakers certainly have heard the seven justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. But they also should be listening to the nearly 390,000 Mainers who voted last November for a change in the way the state runs elections.

Fifty-two percent of the Mainers who voted were in favor of Question 5, an initiative that could bring more civility and consensus to campaigns marked by increasing, deliberate divisiveness and end the incessant talk of “spoiler” votes that has dominated recent three-way races, to their detriment.

But the merits of ranked-choice voting aren’t the issue here. Those were debated at length in the lead-up to Nov. 8. Voters heard them – along with questions about the measure’s constitutionality – and a majority clearly wants a new electoral system. At issue now is whether the Legislature will listen.

The matter is back in lawmakers’ hands after the court last month unanimously ruled that parts of the new ranked-choice voting law are unconstitutional because the Maine Constitution, in most races, calls for election by plurality, not necessarily the majority, as occurs in ranked-choice voting once last-place finishers are discarded and their votes redistributed.

Maine Republicans, who would likely be hurt by such a system in statewide races, have never liked ranked-choice voting, and they’re using the court’s ruling to call for a full repeal of the referendum. Some Democrats – apparently not as concerned about the will of the people here as they are about the 3 percent school-funding tax that was also passed in November – have joined them, and ranked-choice voting appears doomed.

That’s a shame. The court’s ruling should not be cover to sweep away the outcome of the November election.


Sure, the referendum as written likely violates the state constitution. But the constitution’s preference for plurality over majority is not one of our bedrock, fundamental rights, such as the freedom to speak one’s mind, or freedom from discrimination or religious persecution. It can be changed – in fact, it has been changed before.

The language in the Maine Constitution was changed from “majority” to “plurality” in 1880, after a contentious three-way race for governor ended with no candidate securing a majority, and two claiming victory. It led to a days-long standoff between armed men and troops on the lawn of the home of then-U.S. Sen. James Blaine in Augusta, a home that is now the governor’s residence.

In response to that crisis, the Maine Constitution was changed to make it clear that the winner of an election was simply the person with the most votes, however many that may be. It was a procedural change made in direct response to a specific problem. Ranked-choice voting was not part of the debate.

It is now, though, and Maine voters are well within their rights to make another procedural change to accommodate it. Legislators should resist calls to repeal ranked-choice voting, and instead send a constitutional amendment to voters. A clear majority of voters supported ranked-choice voting last November, and they deserve to be heard.

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