2018-01-25 / Editorial

Just say “No” to Ranked Choice Voting, veto

The Right Side
by Mike Coleman

In November 2016 Maine voters approved a citizen initiative to change the method we use to choose our elected officials for state and federal offices. Rather than a simple plurality of votes, a complex system known as Ranked Choice Voting, where voters rank their choices in order of preference, would decide our elections. Votes would be tabulated in rounds with the candidate receiving the lowest number of first-choice votes in each round being dropped in the next round and the second-choice pick being counted along with the first-choice picks of the remaining candidates. This process would be repeated until a candidate has a majority of the votes in that round.

Several provisions of that proposed law are clearly in conflict with Maine’s Constitution. Proponents claim that ranked choice voting would give voters more choice, make our elections more civil and winners would enjoy majority support. Opponents counter with claims that ranked choice voting is unnecessary, complicated and unconstitutional. The claim that the eventual winner would enjoy majority support is not necessarily true. Ranked choice voting can manufacture a majority but it is entirely possible and increasingly likely with a large field of candidates that the winner will not have support from a majority of voters who cast ballots.

The state’s Supreme Judicial Court, our Republican governor, Democratic secretary of state and Democratic attorney general have all agreed that ranked choice voting is unconstitutional. Any laws passed by the Legislature or by the people that conflict with the state’s Constitution are void. In recognition of this the Maine Legislature last year passed a bill that would suspend the implementation of ranked choice voting unless the necessary constitutional changes are enacted by December 2021. If the necessary changes are not enacted, ranked choice voting would be repealed.

Maine’s constitution allows the people to veto legislation passed by the Legislature if a group is successful in collecting signatures equal to 10 percent of the number of people who voted for governor in the last election and a majority votes for the veto in the next statewide election. Just collecting enough signatures delays enactment of what the Legislature passed.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting’s petition drive seeks to reinstate provisions of ranked choice voting that were not specifically judged to be unconstitutional in an advisory opinion by Maine’s highest court at the request of the State Senate. The court did not answer all the constitutional questions. If the committee is successful, this June’s primaries for all state and federal offices and the general elections will be held under ranked choice voting only for federal offices. The November elections for governor and legislators will be decided by pluralities as they have for over a century. This will set up a bifurcated system where some elections will be under ranked choice voting rules and some under traditional rules. This will add to voter confusion and will likely result in depressed turnouts and increased spoiled ballots.

Logistically, ranked choice voting will be a nightmare to administer. Currently, recounts may be time-consuming but are concerned only with who finishes first and second. With ranked choice voting a recount of each round and each finishing place may be necessary. This could take weeks if not months, delaying results, throwing campaigns and our state’s government into chaos.

The Maine Legislature did the right thing by delaying implementation until the necessary constitutional changes are made. If they cannot be made, then ranked choice voting needs to be thrown out. Just say no if asked to sign their petition. Tell the circulators that ranked choice voting is unnecessary, complicated, and unconstitutional.

Mike Coleman is a former town councilor in Old Orchard Beach and was a member of the Maine Republican State Committee from 2010 through 2017 where he served as budget chairman under three separate state chairmen. He represented Maine at the Republican National Convention as an alternate in 2012. He recently left the Republican Party and became an Independent.

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