Maine ranked choice voting (Question 5) was approved in November with the second-largest referendum victory in state history. Voters sent a clear message to their legislators and Maine officials: they wanted a new, better way to conduct elections.
So it was no surprise how angry and frustrated voters got when lawmakers tried to repeal ranked choice voting earlier this year.
Mainers showed up to the capitol in droves, overflowing committee hearing rooms to show support for ranked choice voting. Thousands called their legislators, letters to the editor were written, the biggest newspapers in Maine urged lawmakers to protect the will of the people, and one of ranked choice voting's biggest opponents -- swayed by the response from voters -- ended up rejecting full repeal.
Voters wanted their legislators to respect their vote, and before the legislative session ended, repeal efforts died.
Now, as the Maine legislature is about to enter into a special session, the fate of Maine ranked choice voting will once again be in question as opponents continue to try to derail the reform or delay it as much as they can.
Even Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has used some strong language against the ranked choice voting system — leaving supporters worried that he might try to persuade state legislators to repeal or delay implementation beyond 2018.
"You already have an indication from the court that it's not constitutional and you play out 2010 all over again and it could be (a) a couple months before you know who your governor is and then (b) who is the legitimate governor? You could have cars burning in the streets. And what I said at the time was doing nothing is the equivalent of leaving a loaded revolver on a swingset. There's going to be a disaster, it's just a matter of when," Dunlap said in a radio interview on WLOB NewsTalk Radio.
The court "decision" Dunlap is referring to is a non-binding advisory opinion from the Maine Supreme Court in May that the ranked choice initiative may conflict with a section of the state constitution that deals with three specific general elections -- governor, State Senate, and State House. However, for roughly 70 percent of elections in Maine, the state Supreme Court found no constitutional conflict.
Independent State Rep. Kent Ackley has proposed a bill that would partly remedy the state constitutional issue by allowing ranked choice voting to be implemented in all elections where there is no constitutional conflict and delaying implementation for governor, State Senate, and State House races until the legislature can pass a constitutional amendment -- honoring both the state constitution and the will of voters.
"Voters don't want another election defined by spoilers and vote-splitting," said Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for Yes on 5 (RCV Maine). "They don't want a winner who is opposed by a majority of voters."
He later added, "People want more choice in 2018. The legislature ought to respect the will of the people."
There will be a public hearing on Kent Ackley's bill and the fate of ranked choice voting on Monday, October 16, a week before the start of the special session. RCV Maine is encouraging as many supporters as they can to attend.
According to RCV Maine's field director, Finn Melanson, the campaign will also be handing out postcards for voters to sign on election day on November 7 to send to state legislators urging them to protect the will and rights of voters.