Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is appealing a judge’s ruling that put a Republican bid to overturn expansion of ranked-choice voting to presidential contests on the November ballot.

But he is including the people’s veto question on all the ballots just in case he loses the appeal or runs out of time.

As of right now, the layout of the ballots will include the people’s veto and the usual pick-one presidential choice – not the ranked-choice version – to ensure the timely printing and distribution of ballots for the Nov. 3 election, according to his spokeswoman, Kristen Schulze Muszynski. It must start printing ballots soon to mail out the first round of absentees by Oct. 2.

“If the legal status of the court’s decision changes, the staff will pivot to create a different ballot layout if time permits,” she said.

If the people’s veto is on the ballot, ranked-choice voting will not be used to decide the presidential showdown between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden and three third-party candidates. Ranked-choice voting will still be used for the contentious U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Sarah Gideon.

Dunlap’s appeal focuses on whether those circulating petitions must be registered voters at the time they’re collecting signatures. Dunlap, a Democrat, had concluded the Maine Republican Party had failed to get enough signatures to force a referendum on the expansion of ranked-choice voting, including 988 disqualified signatures collected by circulators who were not registered to vote.

But Monday, Superior Court Judge Thomas McKeon disagreed with Dunlap’s conclusion about state circulator qualifications. If you count all the signatures gathered by the disqualified circulators, the Republican-led campaign to put the ranked-choice voting question to voters exceeded the 63,068-signature referendum threshold by 22.

That’s a victory the Maine Republican Party is eager to defend, said Executive Director Jason Savage on Friday.

“We will continue to fight Dunlap’s attempts to silence and disenfranchise tens of thousands of Mainers,” he said.

Ranked-choice voting advocates are challenging the judge’s ruling, too. They filed court papers Thursday claiming that not all of the signatures gathered by unregistered circulators are valid. Take out the signatures of those who signed more than one of the petitions, or those who are not registered voters, and Republicans still fell short of the referendum mark, they claim.

The timing of the judge’s decision has left little time for appeals. The deadline for collecting materials needed to print ballots was supposed to be Friday, but Dunlap’s spokesperson suggested there’s wiggle room, saying that staff will change the ballot layout if the appeal prevails and time permits. She could not provide an absolute deadline for printing ballots.

Maine is the first state in the nation to adopt the voting system that lets voters rank candidates from first to last on their ballot.

A candidate who reaches 50 percent or more in the first round of voting is declared the winner. If no candidate has a clear majority, then there are additional tabulations, aided by computers, in which bottom finishers are eliminated and those voters’ second choices are reallocated to the remaining field. This continues until one candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote. The system was first used in Maine in 2018.

Because it runs afoul of the Maine Constitution, the system is not used in the governor’s race or state legislative contests.

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