Maine’s high court said Tuesday that the state’s first-in-the-nation ranked-choice voting system is unconstitutional, throwing the voter-approved law into jeopardy ahead of the key 2018 campaign when it was supposed to be implemented. In a unanimous, 44-page opinion issued Tuesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s seven justices agreed with Attorney General Janet Mills, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Republican legislators that the system violates a provision of the Maine Constitution that allows elections to be won by pluralities — and not necessarily majorities — of votes.
But Maine’s history of plurality elections that colored the referendum approved by 52 percent of voters in 2016 and the non-binding opinion from the high court casts doubt that Maine will pioneer the change in its gubernatorial, congressional and legislative elections.
Gov. Paul LePage was elected with pluralities in 2010 and 2014, though his Democratic predecessor, John Baldacci, also never won the governor’s office with a majority. If a ranked-choice system were in place in 2010, a Bangor Daily News simulation found that independent Eliot Cutler would have been favored to win.
The Legislature and Dunlap’s office haven’t moved to implement the law amid the uncertainty around its legality. Now the Legislature will be under pressure either to throw out the law or amend the Constitution to allow it.