AUGUSTA — Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Wednesday that ranked-choice voting will be used in the June 12 primaries when Democrats and Republicans pick nominees for governor and two other races.

Dunlap’s announcement came a day after the state supreme court refused to overrule the election system passed by state voters in November 2016. The court took the case up last Friday but moved quickly to issue an opinion with the primary less than two months away.

Also Wednesday, Republicans in the Maine Senate signaled they would sponsor a bill to require Maine State Police to collect ballots for the retabulation process used in ranked-choice voting, should it be needed.

“The key take-away from the decision is we will be utilizing ranked-choice voting for the June primary,” Dunlap said. He said the ruling by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday, “piled on top” of an earlier Kennebec County Superior Court ruling that directed Dunlap to implement ranked-choice in June.

Dunlap said the key component of the court decision was that his office has the authority to spend state revenues on a ranked-choice election even though such expenditures were not specifically approved by the Legislature.

Under Maine’s traditional voting system, the candidate who gets the highest vote total is declared winner, even if that is less than 50 percent in a race with three or more contestants.

In the ranked-choice system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no one wins a clear majority – more than 50 percent of the vote – after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes is 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 continues until one candidate has a clear majority and is declared the winner.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said the Senate, which petitioned the court to determine whether Dunlap was authorized to apply ranked-choice in the primaries, will draft a bill to ensure that ballots needed for retabulation will be transported from local polling places to Augusta by state police, as is done now for recounts in state elections.

“The court has now ruled that we do have ranked-choice voting, at least for this June primary, and it’s our job now to be responsible to make sure that this is done in an orderly, transparent and accountable way,” Katz said. “We are just suggesting the state police are the way to do that.”

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Wednesday he is ready to implement ranked-choice voting in the June primary. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Dunlap said state police are the “gold standard” when it comes to collecting ballots for recounts. He said one private bonded courier company had quoted his office a price of $31,000 to retrieve ballots, which are stored in locked and tamper-proof ballot boxes, while the cost for state police to do so is estimated at $139,000.

Katz said he didn’t believe it was in the best interests of the state to subcontract the transportation of ballots to a private entity and suggested the state could use Uber drivers for that job. But Dunlap described that idea as “foolishness.”

Based on the present lineup of candidates, the ranked-choice system will be applied to the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries, which feature seven and four candidates, respectively. The system would also be used for the Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District, where party members will choose among four candidates vying for the chance to run against incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

The third race where ranked-choice could be applied is in House District 75, where Republican primary voters will choose among three candidates from Turner.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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