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Maine Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument on Ranked Choice Voting

The Maine Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case that could decide the future of ranked choice voting in the state. The State Senate asked the court to issue an advisory opinion in February.

The justices could very well give lawmakers the justification they need to drop implementation of a voter-approved ballot measure (Question 5). Ranked choice voting was approved by the second-largest referendum vote in Maine’s history.

“At a time when trust and confidence in government is at record lows, some politicians in Augusta are attempting to undermine the vote of the people and undo reform that gives more voice to Maine citizens and helps to elect leaders who can reach beyond their base and bring people together,” said Kyle Bailey, Campaign Manager for Yes On 5. “I should not be surprised that the political establishment is striking back and trying to protect the status quo at all costs, but it’s appalling and disgraceful none the less.”

To understand how ranked choice voting works, here is a simple explanation:

According to multiple reports, the justices “grilled” both sides during the hour-long hearing. One report says a couple of justices suggested that ranked choice voting could threaten the two-party system.

“[Justice] Alexander and Justice Joseph Jabar also focused on the idea that ranked-choice voting could lead to a dismantling of the two party political system,” the Portland Press Herald reports.

Opponents in the legislature argue that ranked choice voting would create a constitutional crisis, even going so far as to suggest that democracy itself is in danger. They also claim that it violates a clause in the state constitution that says elections can be decided by a plurality of the vote.

In March, attorney Marshall J. Tinkle filed a responsive brief, challenging the questions lawmakers were asking the justices to consider. He argued that there is no evidence to support the claims made by opponents of ranked choice voting and the court was being asked to do something that goes against the role of the judiciary.

Tinkle writes:

[The state constitution] broadly lays out a few basic steps in the ballot aggregation process designed to foster accuracy, transparency, and integrity so that the election results will reflect the will of the electors. There is no evidence that ranked-choice voting will impede any of these goals. To the contrary, it is designed to better reflect the popular will in the election results.

Justices have no deadline to issue an advisory opinion but the current legislative session ends on June 21.

Photo Credit: Zack Frank / shutterstock.com