A last-minute attempt by Maine lawmakers to resolve some of the issues surrounding ranked-choice voting failed Thursday, leaving it up to the courts to decide the fate of the first-in-the-nation system. A 17-17 vote on a joint order in the Maine Senate scuttled attempts by Democrats to resolve concerns that Republicans had raised about the ballot-box law adopted in a statewide referendum with 52 percent of the vote in 2016. The joint order would have triggered a new bill to clarify that Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is authorized to expend the funds necessary to conduct a ranked-choice primary. The bill also would have authorized Maine State Police, at Dunlap’s direction, to retrieve ballots as needed and return them to Augusta for a centralized tabulation by Dunlap – an additional step to determine winners in a ranked-choice vote.
The same doubts about legal conflicts that would have been addressed by the legislation are central to a legal complaint by the state Senate that is pending before Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy, who may ultimately send the question to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court.
There were no new developments in the court case Thursday, but Murphy has said she intends to move as quickly as possible in hopes of getting a final ruling on the matter before April 13. Dunlap’s office has said that is necessary to provide enough time to print and distribute primary ballots for absentee voters and Mainers serving in the military overseas.