Questions swirled Thursday about whether Mainers will use the ranked-choice voting system in the June primaries after Secretary of State Matt Dunlap raised concerns about a conflict in the law. Dunlap said his office learned Wednesday about “legal concerns regarding the implementation of ranked-choice voting” caused by conflicting sections of the law dealing with whether primary candidates are elected by a majority or a plurality of votes. As a result, Dunlap said he was reviewing the law even as he moved forward with implementing ranked-choice voting for the June 12 primaries that will decide the Democratic and Republican contenders for governor, Congress and the Legislature. But Dunlap’s surprise announcement sparked a frenzy of activity in Augusta to salvage the system less than three months before Maine was slated to stage the nation’s first statewide election using ranked-choice voting. The debate also took on political overtones when two of the seven Democrats running for governor questioned whether the doubts raised about the legality of ranked-choice voting could benefit another Democratic candidate, Attorney General Janet Mills.
“It is our intention to continue on with the implementation schedule laid out because we do not have time to do anything else, but I do bring this to the Legislature as a real conflict that could be challenged (in court),” Dunlap told members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. “I do not presuppose the outcome of that challenge. And I do not agree that we should just leave it to a challenge and see where the chips fall. I think it needs to be addressed.”
However, a legislative fix appears unlikely in the face of strong Republican opposition to the voting system. So the issue appeared headed to court as supporters sought a judicial order forcing Dunlap to implement the system.