Making Democracy Work

Ranked Choice Voting Background

Legislative and Legal History in Maine

Recent History

In the special session on October 23, 2017, the legislature narrowly passed a bill that delays implementation of ranked choice voting until the 2022 elections and repeals the law entirely unless a constitutional amendment passes before then. The League opposed this bill but continues to support a constitutional amendment.

We were disappointed and dismayed that the legislature would completely disregard the expressed preference of Maine voters. The League of Women Voters of Maine issued the following joint statement in response to the legislature's action on LD 1646 An Act To Bring Maine's Ranked-choice Voting Law into Constitutional Compliance:

"In our democracy, legislative decisions should be measured against the standard set by the will of the voters. By that standard, the legislature's actions today failed. Less than a year after the second largest majority of voters in the history of citizen initiatives approved ranked choice voting, the legislature is poised to deny voters the benefits of the law we enacted for the 2018 election cycle. The amended version of LD 1646 also sets in motion a process that is likely to result in the automatic repeal of the entire RCV law in 2021. These attacks on the citizen-initiated law effectively dismiss the people's voice as expressed less than a year ago. We urge our lawmakers to take whatever steps may be available to them to reverse this decision, and preserve and protect the citizen-approved law."

Friday, November 3, was the veto deadline for bills passed during the October 23 special session, and Governor LePage allowed the RCV bill to become law without his signature. It will go into effect 90 days after the special session finally adjourns, presumably today, November 6. That would give an effective date of February 4, 2018. The bar is high to pass a Constitutional Amendment, and we are far from clearing that bar as things stand today. Without a Constitutional Amendment, RCV will be automatically repealed at the end of 2021.

Other Background

Maine's Supreme Judicial Court Weighs in on Ranked Choice Voting.

Ranked choice voting passed as a citizen initiative in November, 2016.

In a unanimous opinion issued on Tuesday, May 23, the Maine court granted the State Senate's request for a solemn occasion on the new law and went on to rule on the merits, indicating their view that ranked choice voting is inconsistent with the Maine state constitution. You can read the opinion here. The opinion applies only to state races (governor, state senate, and state house of representatives). Races for federal office are not affected.

Legislature Fails to Act

Ranked choice voting was one of the last items to be taken up at the end of the last legislative session. LD 1624, the bill introduced by Senator Cathy Breen (D-Falmouth) that would amend the constitution to eliminate the obstacle to full implementation of RCV, failed final passage. We support a constitutional amendment to permit ranked choice voting in state elections, so we're disappointed.

Another bill, LD 1625, introduced by Senator Garrett Mason (R-Lisbon) to repeal the RCV law in total died in nonconcurrence. We strenuously opposed efforts to repeal the RCV law in total.

With this outcome, the entire law enacted by voters in the 2016 initiative remains in force calling for full implementation of the law in 2018,including for those races where the Maine Supreme Court has advised that there may be constitutional issues. This invites a future court challenge and preserves uncertainty with regard to the conduct of the 2018 election.

Where That Leaves Us

The will of the voters should be honored. The opinion of the court must be respected. But there is a path forward, and our elected leaders should take it. To avoid election-by-litigation and still respect the change that Maine voters clearly called for last November, we need the leadership of both political parties to set aside their differences and work together.

The best option now -- one that preserves voters' intent while honoring the Constitution -- is to suspend the use of ranked choice voting in elections for the three offices for which the state supreme court found it unconstitutional: the general elections for the Maine House and Senate and governor. The Legislature should allow ranked choice voting to proceed in the other elections covered by the new law -- primary elections for state and federal offices, and general elections for the U.S. House and Senate. When and if voters pass a constitutional amendment in the future, the law could take effect for all elections.

Our View

The legislature has the opportunity - and the responsibility - to reconcile the law with the constitution.

The Supreme Court opinion is only a partial, temporary setback. Our public officials could and should address the issues identified by the Court by changing the statute to preserve RCV for federal races.

At the same time, we continue to support a constitutional amendment to validate what the voters demanded at the ballot box for state races.

But while the amendment is under consideration, the legislature has the power and obligation to protect those parts of the law that are unrelated to the Court's advisory opinion. We urge them to do so.

Maine has a way forward on ranked-choice voting. Lawmakers should take it. LWVME President Jill Ward's op-ed in the Bangor Daily News, October 4, 2017.

League of Women Voter of Maine Urges Legislature to Honor Will of Voters Regarding Ranked Choice Voting, LWVME Press Release, May 25, 2017.

Augusta must honor the will of Maine voters and ensure full implementation of the law, LWVME issues joint press release, May 23, 2017.

Key Points to Consider

Cost: In his public testimony to the Appropriations Committee, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said that he didn't need an appropriation in the budget right now, that his office had enough money to begin the planning. In any case, costs are not likely to exceed what voters approved at the ballot last year and may be substantially less.

Timing: We don't need a delay. We can do this for 2018 if we stop arguing about "whether" and start talking about "how." It's not too hard, it's not too confusing, and it's not unusual for RCV elections to be conducted at the same time and on the same ballot with other elections. Here's what that might look like.

Let's get to work. We respect the regular order and stand behind due process, which should include public discussion and rule-making about how best to move forward once the legal and statutory issues are resolved. Working together, we can do this!

RCV in the News

Maine Delays Start of Voter-Approved Election Law, in the New York Times, November 3, 2017.

After Legislature delays ranked-choice voting, push for people's veto is on, Portland Press Herald, October 24, 2017.

High court hints it will have to rule on Maine ranked-choice vote legality,Bangor Daily News, April 13, 2017.

Maine's highest court hears ranked-choice voting arguments, AP story in U,S. News & World Report, April 13, 2017.

Maine AG, Republicans tell high court they believe ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional, League says otherwise, Bangor Daily News, March 3, 2017.

Briefs Filed in Ranked-Choice Voting Constitutional Challenge, Maine Public reports, March 3, 2017.

Maine Adopts Ranked-Choice Voting. What Is It, and How Will It Work? in the New York Times, December 3, 2016.

Read the joint media release.

Maine starts planning ranked choice voting systems, League president Jill Ward quoted in AP article, November 11, 2016

Should we vote for candidates in order of preference? Newsweek article, October 30, 2016.

For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils, yes! magazine article, October 13, 2016.

How ranked-choice voting could make voters more open to third-party candidates, PBS Newshour, September 2, 2016.

Are 'Instant Runoffs' a Better Way to Vote?, Stateline from the Pew Charitable Trusts, September 2, 2016.

How Paul LePage got elected, and how Mainers think they can fix a broken voting system, Boston.com September 1, 2016.

Group promotes voting change for Maine with ranked-choice beer tastings,, Portland Press Herald, August 24, 2016.

Support ranked-choice voting,, Sarah Palmer's LTE in the BDN, August 5, 2016.

Better way to vote, Gina Coppens's LTE in the BDN, August 2, 2016.

YES on Question 5: Ranked Choice Voting!, Ned White blog post in the BDN, July 23, 2016.

Correcting record about ranked choice voting, Ann Luther's op-ed in the Journal Tribune, June 28, 2016.

Maine Voices: Ranked-choice voting passes every test of true democracy, LWVME President Jill Ward's op-ed in the Portland Press Herald, June 11, 2016.

As a Republican, this is why I support ranked-choice voting, BDN op-ed June 8, 2016.

Maine attorney general says ranked-choice voting may require amending constitution, Portland Press Herald, March 5, 2016.

Maine officials, legislators question legality of ranked-choice voting, Portland Press Herald, January 20, 2015.

Maine election officials certify ranked-choice voting proposal for 2016 ballot, Portland Press Herald, November 18, 2015.

More than 70,000 Maine voters want ranked choice voting on November 2016 ballot, press release from the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, October 19, 2015.

Our View: Group looks to 2016 for ranked-choice vote, editorial in the Portland Press Herald, January 31, 2015.

No more spoilers, a focus on the issues: 6 reasons it's time for ranked choice voting in Maine, Dick Woodbury's op. ed. in the Bangor Daily News, January 27, 2015.

Maine ranked-choice voting advocates gather signatures, Portland Press Herald, January 3, 2015.

Group collecting signatures for ranked choice voting, WGME, January 3, 2015.

Mainers seek ranked-choice voting petition signatures, Seacoast Online January 1, 2015.

Campaign for ranked-choice voting measure needs about 15,000 signatures, Portland Sun, December 12, 2014.

Ranked Choice, The Times Record endorses RCV, November 16, 2014.

Ranked-choice voting advocates gathered 36,000 signatures on Election Day, story in the Portland Press Herald, November 12, 2014.

Portland Press Herald endorses RCV petition, October 31, 2014.

Advocates of RCV launch petition drive in Maine, story in the Bangor Daily News, October 27, 2014.

Moot Court on Ranked Choice Voting in Maine

Some people, including members of the League of Women Voters, would like to see ranked choice voting used in Maine's statewide elections. However, even some proponents worry that there may be an obstacle: the Maine Constitution stipulates that the governor and legislature be elected by "a plurality of all votes."

Would ranked choice voting be constitutional in Maine?

In February, 2014, The League of Women Voters of Maine convened a Moot Court to explore the constitutionality of ranked choice voting in Maine. We invited members of Maine's legal and public-policy community to hear the arguments, weigh in, and discuss the issues with the advocates and the panel.

We were extremely pleased to have a distinguished panel for this event:

  • Catherine R. Connors of Pierce Atwood
  • James T. Kilbreth of Dummond Woodsum
  • Hon. Daniel E. Wathen of Pierce Atwood

The advocates for and against the question were Timothy Shannon of Verrill Dana and John Brautigam of John Brautigam Esq. LLC. Our moderator was H. Cabanne Howard. Here is Tim's Brief for the Appellee. And here is John's Brief for the Appellant.

Both sides were very well represented. Audience members were polled prior to the arguments and then again after the arguments. These polls revealed no strong consensus among the attendees. After the arguments, the number of undecided votes was greatly reduced, but opinion was still split equally between the Yes and No groups.

The illustrious panel reached a unanimous conclusion that Ranked Choice Voting would not be constitutional in Maine.

You can listen to an audio recording of the Moot Court event here.

Although the moot court panel found as they did, lawyers in and out of Maine continue to be divided on the question. Judge Wathen, for one, was interviewed later, and said, "The case is one on which reasonable minds can and do differ." He conceded that the arguments in favor of RCV constitutionality were persuasive and that the case might be winnable.

In addition, almost two years later, panelist Jamie Kilbreth issued a memo indicating that he had concluded RCV would be constitutional. Here's that memo. You can read more arguments by proponents at rcvmaine.com.

In March, 2016, Maine's Attorney General issued a letter in response to a legislative inquiry indicating that she felt RCV raised significant constitutional issues.

In January, 2016, the League issued this statement regarding the constitutionality of RCV in Maine.