The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Tuesday that ranked-choice voting must be in effect for the June 12 primary elections.

In the 22-page decision, the seven justices addressed seven questions posed by the Republican-led Maine Senate challenging the authority of the Maine Secretary of State to implement RCV for the primary. Legislative Republicans have blocked efforts to give the SoS rulemaking authority and provide funding for the voter-mandated law. But the Court concluded that overruling the RCV law would violate the separation of powers clause in the Constitution.

“We are not persuaded by the suggestion that the logistics of implementing ranked-choice voting create a constitutional crisis sufficient for us to ignore the separation-of-powers problems inherent in these circumstances,” the justices wrote.

The Court acknowledged that there is a conflict in the law, as one part of state statute states that primary elections will be determined by a plurality while the winner in an RCV election must win a majority of the vote. However, the Court determined that the plurality provision had been “implicitly repealed” by the most recent changes to the law. The opinion follows an earlier Superior Court ruling that the state must move forward with the new voting system because to not do so would cause “irreparable injury.”

Earlier this year, activists submitted enough signatures for a “people’s veto” of a law passed by the Legislature last year to delay implementing the RCV law and automatically repeal it in 2021 if the state doesn’t pass an amendment to put the law into Constitutional compliance. If the people’s veto is successful, it would implement ranked-choice voting for primary elections and federal elections, but not for general elections for state-level offices. Regardless of the outcome of the ballot initiative, primary voters will have the opportunity to rank candidates for gubernatorial, congressional, and state legislative offices by numbers in order of preference — 1, 2 and 3. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round of tabulation, the last-place candidates are defeated and the votes that went to them are distributed to the second-choice candidates. The candidate with the most votes in the final round of tabulation wins. 

Originally, the Maine Secretary of State’s office estimated the cost of implementing RCV this year would be about $220,000. But it has been able to pare down the total cost to about $80,000 by eliminating “best practices,” like voter outreach, from its budget. It will cost roughly an additional $50,000 to transport the ballots from local polling places.

In a statement, Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty.), who helped bring the suit, said, “We will consider what we can do to ensure the election process goes smoothly on June 12th,” but did not elaborate on whether Republicans would stop trying to obstruct the new law.