Last November, Maine voters in Referendum enacted a new voting system, called Ranked Choice Voting, for ten electoral races starting next summer: U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, governor, state Senator, and state Representative and the five primaries associated with each.

Earlier this spring, Maine’s Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion: they indicated a possible conflict of three of the ten races with Maine’s constitution—races for governor, state Senator, and state Representative.

In the aftermath of the advisory opinion, the Legislature last spring and early summer, chose not to propose a constitutional amendment to clarify the problem area: whether or not a “majority” is a “plurality” Ranked Choice Voting remains as the law of the land. This needs emphasis currently because of the myth going about (left un-refuted and even promoted by the media) that RCV has been eliminated by the Supreme Court. But RCV is nevertheless very much alive as law.

Later this month, on Monday Oct. 23, the Maine Legislature will convene in a special session called by the Governor. RCV is on the agenda. A hearing on RCV will take place a week before, to have started this morning, at which the public can testify before the Joint Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs (State House, Room 237).

There are at least four options on the table: 1) leave the RCV law as is, 2) leave the law as is for seven of the ten races but postpone implementation of the other three (Governor, State Senator, and State Representative) until the constitution is amended, 3) postpone implementation for all ten races for two years, and 4) repeal the law entirely.

We strongly favor the first option, because it is what the people have adopted in their Referendum and that should get top priority; and because doing less leaves our candidates shamefully out in the cold. Number two is our second choice, but with deep distress that it leaves our candidates for governor, state house and senate exposed next year to the spoiler albatross.

Some will argue, because of the Supreme Court’s opinion, that it is unconstitutional to leave the law as is. This is not accurate. Every law, whether enacted by the legislature or by the citizens, is constitutional until a court issues a decision in a case that changes it. A case requires a plaintiff that has suffered, presumably a candidate who loses an RCV election who would otherwise have won under the previous system. We can understand that the court would not want to have to decide a case which selects an elected official (as the US Supreme Court did in 2000) because of the likely harm to the Court’s reputation. But overturning citizen enacted legislation to help the court (rather than clarify the constitution) is not a solution.

A major motivation for using RCV in Maine is the number of gubernatorial elections in recent history resulting in low approval ratings (for both Democratic and Republican Governors). Especially disturbing is that the winning candidate faces the politically embarrassing and weakening fact that he (and it was he) was passed over by more voters than he himself was able to garner. Postponing the use of RCV for the three state-controlled races leaves us in the same position indefinitely. (Why would the legislature propose changing the constitution in the future, if not now?)

Another critical motivation for using RCV is the burning need, widely shared, to get the spoiler problem, and the political negativism it spawns, off the voters’ backs.

Postponing the implementation of RCV for two years is tantamount to repealing the law since policy deferred is policy denied. (What would cause it to be implemented two years from now, if not now?)

Finally, outright repeal of the citizen enacted ranked choice voting law may well be the likely outcome of the special session since the major parties’ leadership have been in opposition to RCV. They have not suffered, yet, for repealing all of the education funding legislation and half of the minimum wage legislation enacted by the citizens at the same time.

We strongly encourage citizens to act to preserve the law on RCV adopted by the citizens in Referendum last November.

John Rensenbrink of Topsham is the Principal Founder and Advisor to the Maine Green Independent Party. Ralph Chapman, represents, District 133, Brooksville as a Maine Green Independent Party Legislator.



Comments are not available on this story.