Leave it to Civil War Gen. Joshua Chamberlain to affect Maine politics 136 years after defusing an armed Augusta standoff that could have led to civil war. Law changes made after that 1880 standoff over who would be Maine’s next governor may sink an effort to change the way the state votes in 2016. It’s a complicating factor for advocates of ranked-choice voting, who submitted enough signatures last year to place on the November 2016 ballot a question that would implement the new voting system. Ranked-choice voting would allow voters to rank candidates for governor, the Legislature and members of Congress in order of preference in multi-candidate races, creating an “instant runoff” when no single candidate receives more than 50 percent of the total vote and counting second- and third-place votes if necessary.
But Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap says it likely conflicts with the Maine Constitution, which was changed in 1880 to say that a governor could be elected with a plurality — and not necessarily a majority — of votes.
Proponents of the initiative have pushed back on the notion that ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional, but it’s a dispute that’s rooted in Maine political history and could invite a court challenge and constitutional amendment process.