Maine’s elected officials are having a hard time getting the message.

There is a sizable group of citizens who don’t like the kinds of choices that they are forced to make on Election Day, and they don’t like the kind of government they get as a result.

They don’t think that the group of people who are elected to office care about the things that affect them. They don’t like the way power gets concentrated, and they don’t like the way warring tribes would rather accomplish nothing than compromise.

The impulse to change the way that the business of government works is the reason why a majority of Mainers voted for legislative term limits in 1993, Clean Elections public campaign financing in 1996 and ranked-choice voting in 2016. Each was an attempt to give voice to people who had been shut out of the process and to elect representatives who would be more representative.

It’s no coincidence that they were all citizen initiatives. None of these reforms was passed by the Legislature, and each has been considered to be a naive idea by political pros, who feel that they better understand the ins and outs of the way government really works than the average voter does.

They can’t seem to understand what could possibly be wrong with a system that has put them in charge.


This kind of cluelessness bordering on arrogance is on full display in Augusta these days, as state officials continue to fumble around with ranked-choice voting. Voters approved the law in 2016, but it’s still not ready, just 10 weeks before its debut in the June primary election.

Instead of getting the system ready for the voters, the Legislature ignored it for months and then effectively killed it in a special session last October. Supporters of the reform had to gather signatures a second time to get ranked-choice voting back on the ballot, but state officials have allowed the whole matter to descend into chaos. Their biggest accomplishment may be galvanizing a public that is tired of seeing their mandates being treated like suggestions.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that he had just learned that there is conflicting legal language in the statute, which had been cobbled together from several versions during hectic committee work last fall.

Either the Legislature or a court would have to clarify the statute, said Dunlap, or he wouldn’t be able to implement ranked-choice voting in time for the June primary. Attorney General Janet Mills put out a statement saying that she would submit legislation to straighten out the conflict. In a normal world, that would work. Conscientious lawmakers could be counted on to fix a technical error, even if they personally didn’t think ranked-choice voting is a good idea.

But we don’t live in normal times. Like Gov. LePage, who acts like no apple has been chewed on so much that you can’t take another bite out of it, no one believes that ranked-choice voting opponents would treat this problem as anything other than an opportunity to thwart the voters again.

Just as LePage refuses to issue voter-approved bonds or spend appropriated funds on programs he doesn’t like, a hard core of House Republicans can be counted on to put their personal judgment ahead of whatever the voters may have said.


Fortunately, the Committee For Ranked Choice Voting had the foresight to file a pre-emptive lawsuit to demand that the system be put in place in time for the June primary. They went before a judge Friday, and it’s very likely that she will be able resolve the matter in time to get the ballots ready.

The other two branches of government have a lot to account for.

Dunlap and Mills, both Democrats, are taking most of the heat from referendum supporters. Mills, who is a candidate for governor, has been accused of self-dealing by two of her opponents. But she has recused herself from anything her office does in regard to the election, and this is really a bigger problem than two constitutional officers.

For the third time in a generation, voters have gone to the polls and passed a major electoral reform. They are trying to tell the elected officials something. After this debacle, we’ll see who’s getting the message.

Comments are no longer available on this story