A Superior Court judge on Monday ruled that Maine’s Secretary of State improperly invalidated nearly 1,000 signatures in a Republican-led people’s veto effort to overturn the state’s ranked-choice voting law.

The decision by Cumberland County Judge Thomas McKeon means Maine voters may weigh in on ranked-choice voting for the third time in four years this November.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap could still appeal the latest decision, but ballots for November are supposed to be printed by Friday, so time is short. His office declined to comment on the decision Tuesday morning and had not issued a statement about its plans as of Tuesday night.

The Maine Republican Party, which has vehemently opposed ranked-choice voting – and has blamed it for U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s reelection defeat in 2018 – hailed the decision.

“We said we would not stop fighting until the secretary of state’s incorrect decision was overturned,” Jason Savage, the party’s executive director, said in a statement. “Now we are on to November and to repeal RCV and restore the principle of one person, one vote.”

Dunlap’s office had rejected a total of 11,299 signatures submitted, which left the petitioners 1,775 signatures shy of the minimum needed under Maine law – 10 percent of the number of voters casting ballots in the most recent gubernatorial election. Prior to McKeon’s decision, Dunlap had reinstated 809 signatures that had been certified by the town of Turner, which reduced the gap to 966 signatures.


The Republican Party’s court challenge identified five areas where it believed Dunlap erred in disqualifying signatures. McKeon dismissed four of those five claims but sided with the party on 988 signatures gathered by two petitioners who were not registered to vote at the time they gathered signatures. Dunlap’s assertion was that the petitioners were not authorized to gather signatures at that time, but the judge disagreed. Reinstating those signatures put the petitioners over the threshold by 22 votes.

Ranked-choice voting allows – but does not require – voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If one candidate gets more than 50 percent in the first round, that person wins. If no one receives a majority, the ranked preferences are used to decide the winner. Maine was the first state to adopt ranked-choice voting for statewide elections.

As a result of McKeon’s ruling, ranked-choice voting will be applied to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House races on Nov. 3, but not to the presidential race or any legislative races.

Maine voters first approved ranked-choice voting in 2016, but the law has been under attack since. It was repealed by the Legislature the following year but then reaffirmed by voters in a people’s veto that November. The Legislature then passed a law in 2019 that extended the ranked-choice system to presidential primaries and presidential elections in Maine, which the Maine Republican Party has been trying to overturn, both through legal challenges and the latest people’s veto effort.

On Aug. 14, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker, a Trump appointee, denied a request by opponents of Maine’s ranked-choice voting law for an order to prohibit the system from being used in the U.S. Senate race in November.

“My limited charge is to determine only whether the RCV (ranked-choice voting) Act is contrary to the text of the United States Constitution. It is not,” Walker wrote in his decision. “As I stated following my first encounter with RCV litigation: The remedy in a democracy, when no constitutional infirmity appears likely, is to exercise the protected rights of speech and association granted by the First Amendment to persuade one’s fellow citizens of the correctness of one’s position and to petition the political branch to change the law.”

Although the federal lawsuit failed, the people’s veto has now been resurrected.

Dunlap, a Democrat, had ruled that the Maine Republican Party’s effort to gather more than 63,000 signatures fell short because many signatures were not valid.

The party challenged that ruling in Cumberland County Superior Court, which led to McKeon’s ruling Monday that Dunlap improperly invalidated 988 signatures.

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