Maine voters approved a measure this past fall to adopt a ranked-choice voting system for statewide elections. Now lawmakers who are trying to implement the new law are asking the Maine Supreme Court to weigh in on whether it’s constitutional. Last year Maine Attorney General Janet Mills raised questions about the proposal because it appeared to clash with language in the state constitution. For decades, the candidate that got the most votes in a contest has been declared the winner. But under the new system, voters will indicate their top multiple choices in order of preference, and the candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated until someone has a majority. Democratic state Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester, former director of the ACLU in Maine, says the voters have spoken and the Legislature should follow their will. “We do not want to set a precedent of a Legislature turning to the courts every time a law is passed to seek an advisory opinion as to the constitutionality of our legislation,” she says.
But the Senate did decide to get a second opinion, voting 24-10 to ask the justices to look at the proposal. That majority included supporters of ranked-choice voting like Augusta Republican Sen. Roger Katz, an attorney who argued it is better to get an opinion now than implement the new system and get a surprise ruling after next year’s elections.
“We can do it now easily or we can do it later when it is amidst chaos and it would be much more expensive for us to get involved. And remember that it is the same court that is going to decide this ultimately, one way or another,” he says.
Another Republican supporter of ranked-choice voting, Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, also was in favor of seeking an opinion. “I do think that there are some very serious constitutional issues here that even the attorney general has raised,” he says.