Maine Supreme Court strikes down ranked ballot system

Last week Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court struck down what would have been the nation’s  first ranked-choice voting system – a new voting system previously approved by a referendum. This  would have impacted gubernatorial, congressional and legislative elections.

Such a system is intended to ensure that the eventual winner of an election has secured more than 50 percent of the vote – i.e., a majority. It does that by asking voters to rank their preferences among candidates on their ballot. The candidate receiving the fewest votes on the first ballot drops off. The second choice on a given ballot is then considered the first choice and votes are again tallied up to see if anyone has received 50-plus percent. This process continues until someone secures a majority.

In a unanimous, 44-page opinion issued Tuesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s seven justices agreed with Attorney General Janet Mills, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Republican legislators that the system violates a provision of the Maine Constitution that allows elections to be won by pluralities — and not necessarily majorities — of votes.

I don’t have a copy of the Maine Constitution in front of me, but the section in question seems absurd. They enshrine an anti-democratic provision in their constitution. The other oddity is that the decision of the court is non-binding.

The Legislature and Dunlap’s office haven’t moved to implement the law amid the uncertainty around its legality. Now the Legislature will be under pressure either to throw out the law or amend the Constitution to allow it.

There has already been talk of proposing a constitutional amendment to allow out, but Republicans in the state don’t like the ranked ballot system so it likely wouldn’t get far.

Common sense and respect for basic democratic principles demand the winner in an election be the choice of the majority of voters. A ranked ballot is a very simple way of ensuring that. When voters in a referendum reinforce the point but a political party can stand in the way because they benefit from undemocratic outcomes, something is wrong.

I’m disappointed in you, Maine.

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