Last week, the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s Office received petitions with about 72,000 signatures calling for a people’s veto of a new law that effectively repeals the voter-mandated ranked-choice voting (RCV) law. The Elections Division now has until March 5 to certify the signatures and confirm whether there are enough valid signatures on the people’s veto petitions to meet the 61,000 threshold to go on the June ballot.

If the petitions are certified to meet the signature threshold, the people’s veto of the Legislature’s repeal of RCV will be in effect for the June 12  primary election. And, if the ballot question that will appear on the June 12 ballot is approved, ranked-choice voting would be used in November’s general election for the federal offices of U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress, but not state-level offices, because that conflicts with Maine’s Constitution.

“This effort is nothing short of a miracle. It demonstrates just how hungry Maine people are for more voice and more choice in our democracy,” said Kyle Bailey of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. “These signatures were collected by volunteers who stood outside of post offices and town dumps in feet of snow facing below-freezing temperatures. With submission of these signatures, Maine people are sending a clear message to the politicians in Augusta that it’s the people who are in charge, not the politicians.”

In 2016, Mainers voted 388,273 to 356,621 to create an RCV system, which allows voters to rank candidates 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. 

Proponents of the proposal noted that Maine hasn’t elected a governor with a majority of the vote since 1998. However in May 2017, Maine’s Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion that the new election system is unconstitutional for state-level general elections (governor and state legislative seats) because the Maine Constitution specifically allows those candidates to be elected with a plurality, rather than a majority as the new law requires.

Democrats sponsored a Constitutional amendment to fix the conflict last summer, but the measure failed to garner the two-thirds votes necessary to be sent to voters for ratification. In October, after the Republican-controlled Senate voted to reject a measure that would have applied RCV only to primary elections and for US senators and representatives, the Senate along with House Republicans and 11 Democrats voted 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.

Whether the Secretary of State’s office will have enough resources to set up the new election system so quickly is a big question. The SoS’s office has estimated it will cost about $1.5 million for a number of technology upgrades, ballot printing costs, temporary staffing, voter education, memory devices and fuel for State Police to pick up the ballots to return them to Augusta for tabulation. And the governor and Republican lawmakers remain opposed to providing that funding.