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Maine is still fighting over ranked-choice voting

I’m old enough to remember the days when people just showed up and filled out a ballot on election day if we needed to pick new elected officials or decide on various ballot measures. And when it came to selecting our representatives and leaders, you looked over the field of qualifying candidates and selected the one you liked best. That quaint idea is starting to fade away in more and more place thanks to the hot new trend of ranked-choice voting. The first state to fully adopt it was Maine, back in 2015. While some residents seem to be okay with this scheme, others have continued to protest and bring the issue before the courts. That’s happening yet again this month, with a challenge to the ranked-choice voting system coming before the state’s supreme court. But rather than looking to scrap the plan entirely, this challenge seems to involve more technical and logistical issues dealing with the collection of signatures for a referendum on the system. (Associated Press)

Maine’s supreme court is hearing 11th-hour arguments in an appeal aimed at stopping a GOP-led referendum on ranked choice voting and ensuring the voting system is used in the November presidential election.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap contends the GOP fell short of collecting 63,068 valid signatures necessary for a statewide vote.

But the threshold was surpassed by 22 signatures when a judge allowed 988 signatures gathered by two people who didn’t register to vote until after they began collecting signatures. Dunlap contends signature-gatherers must be registered to vote before they began collecting signatures.

At issue here is a question concerning two volunteers who collected signatures in support of the referendum seeking to scrap the ranked-choice voting arrangement. Under state law, you have to be a registered voter yourself if you want to collect signatures. These volunteers, apparently unaware of that rule, were not registered when they began collecting signatures. After learning of the rule, they quickly registered to vote and continued their work.

So how many signatures did they collect before registering? It seems like that should be easy enough to determine. Every time I’ve been asked to sign a political petition for one thing or another there has always been a space on the form to indicate the date and the name of the person gathering the signatures. If more than 22 of the signatures were collected before the date that the volunteers registered, then those signatures would presumably be thrown out and the referendum wouldn’t make it onto the ballot.

The ongoing argument underlying the referendum is the more interesting question to me. People who support ranked-choice voting claim that this method eliminates “spoiler candidates” and produces a majority winner without the need of scheduling a runoff election. But who is to say what candidates are “spoilers?” This is the same argument I batted around when looking at the current effort in Massachusetts to begin ranked-choice voting.

Even if someone only manages to attract 5% of the vote, does that mean that they weren’t sincere in seeking the office or that their voice in the debates leading up to the election shouldn’t be heard? More to the point, if nobody earns more than 50% of the vote and they are “eliminated,” then it’s as if they never ran at all in the record books. And who says you have to have a majority to win? As I pointed out previously, one look at the Constitution will remind you that the Founding Fathers assumed from the beginning that multiple candidates would be running for virtually any office and plurality outcomes were to be expected.

It makes sense that the Democrats would support ranked-choice in Maine while the Republicans opposed it. It was a GOP congressman who was the first person to win an election with less than 50% only to have that victory snatched away when the “spoiler” candidates were eliminated and most of their votes went to the Democrat. But the shoe could just as easily be on the other foot next year or in another state. Anyone winning in that fashion definitely has an asterisk next to their name in the record books, at least in my opinion.