A ballot question that would swap Maine’s traditional election system for one in which seats in Congress and the State House are filled by ranked-choice voting could violate the Maine Constitution, according to a top state election official. Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, the longtime head of the elections office, said the issue involves whether Maine’s governor and legislators can be chosen by majority of votes, rather than a plurality, as the Constitution provides. She said she’s concerned that if voters approve the ranked-choice system in November, candidates elected under the system could be challenged in court. Flynn said her office has discussed the issue with the Maine Attorney General’s Office, and an attorney there who advises the agency “is in agreement with our concerns about constitutionality.”
Kyle Bailey, the campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, a state organization that gathered the signatures to put the question to voters, said the campaign consulted with legal experts and was assured that the system is constitutional. Bailey said that while the Constitution makes specific mention of a plurality as the determining factor in State House and gubernatorial races, a system that selects winners with a majority would satisfy the requirement.
“A majority is always a plurality and a plurality isn’t always a majority,” he said. “If you get 52 percent of the vote, you’re the majority winner, but you’re also the plurality winner.”
Bailey acknowledged, however, that the constitutionality of the system is an “unresolved issue” for some. He said the campaign proposes to implement the system in 2018, which would give the Legislature a chance to make changes, such as passing a constitutional amendment, which would need approval by Maine voters. In fact, Bailey said, the constitutional amendment has already been drafted by the League of Women Voters, an organization that backs election reform and has endorsed the ranked-choice voting campaign.