A judge ordered Maine’s secretary of state Wednesday to move forward with implementing ranked-choice voting for the June primaries despite concerns about conflicting language in state law. Later in the day, the same judge also heard arguments in a separate Maine Senate challenge that could end with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court making the final decision about whether Maine will be the first state in the nation to use ranked-choice voting statewide this June. In a 14-page opinion released Wednesday morning, Superior Court Judge Michaela Murphy ordered Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to continue preparing to use ranked-choice voting for gubernatorial, congressional and legislative primaries on June 12. Murphy agreed with the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting – the group that led the successful November 2016 ballot campaign – that uncertainty over the election process could cause “irreparable harm” at this stage.
“The uncertainty that halting the ranked-choice voting implementation process at this late date would cause is significant,” Murphy wrote in her opinion, which was dated Tuesday but did not become public until Wednesday. “Clarity, stability and public confidence are essential to ensure the legitimacy of Maine elections.”
The legal twists and turns are largely the result of a nearly evenly divided Legislature – where Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the Senate and Democrats a five-seat majority in the House – being unable to reach agreement over how, or even if, the ranked-choice voting law passed by voters in 2016 should move forward. Democrats generally support proceeding with the new voting system, while Republicans do not. Ironically, one of the primary arguments by supporters of ranked-choice voting is that it would reduce the sharp partisan divide, often blamed for dysfunction in state government.