AUGUSTA, Maine — Backers of a new ranked voting method on Friday submitted signatures to force Maine to become the first state to implement the election overhaul in time for the June primaries.
Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, a method that supporters say eliminates the spoiler effect and ensures winning candidates have widespread support.
Democratic Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has 30 days to determine whether the campaign has collected at least 61,123 valid signatures. Dunlap has cautioned it would take significant planning and money from lawmakers to fully implement a new system allowing voters rank candidates in order of preference.
“My experience in deadline with matters of law is the court is not empathetic if you are constrained by resources or time,” he said on Friday.
Dunlap said his office has started some preliminary planning for a roll-out, and said he’s confident that the rural state’s municipal clerks could handle such a move. But he said he worries that issues with the brand-new election system could weaken public confidence. “The more time goes by, the more doubt could take root in people’s mind about the legitimacy of the election,” he said.
Maine became the first state to adopt the election overhaul by statewide vote in 2016. Lawmakers ended up delaying the system until Maine passes a constitutional amendment by 2021 resolving concerns raised by the state supreme court for gubernatorial and legislative elections.
Ranked-choice voting supporters then embarked on a referendum do-over, seeking enough signatures for a vote to nullify the potential repeal of ranked-choice voting and to implement the system for the June primaries.
The campaign has collected over 80,000 signatures and is confident that 72,000 signatures submitted Friday are from valid registered voters, according to Kyle Bailey, spokesman for the Committee for Ranked Choice.
The campaign’s submission of signatures means the voter-approved ranked-choice voting law is in effect while Dunlap’s office certifies them. The lawmakers’ delay was set to go into effect Friday, and could go into effect if the campaign’s efforts fail.
If supporters are successful, Mainers on June 12 will be ranking candidates at the ballot box at the same time as they vote on the new system’s future. That means this year, Maine could have a dual-election system: ranked-choice voting for primaries and federal races but not for gubernatorial elections or legislative races.
Republicans and some Democrats have worried that such a system would be too chaotic and confusing.
Lawmakers should move swiftly to implement the law and change the constitution, said Matthew Lyon, an Oakland resident who supports ranked-choice voting. He said the new system could force two dozen gubernatorial candidates hoping to succeed Republican Gov. Paul LePage to broaden their appeal besides their partisan base.
“They should have courage and not tiptoe like they’re afraid to offend the Republicans for enacting the will of the people,” he said.