Supporters of ranked-choice voting, enacted by referendum last November, are crestfallen. Following the Maine Supreme Court’s opinion that this new voting system would violate the Constitution, they’re hoping the Legislature will spring into action with a constitutional amendment to legalize it.

The votes aren’t there. Republicans, seeing an attempt to “repair” the 2010 election that brought us Gov. Paul LePage, are united against. And while the Maine Democratic Party supports ranked choice, not all Democrats do.

What all voters might consider is the arrogant way ranked-choice leaders pushed ahead with a sweeping, all-encompassing referendum despite clear evidence, as the high court confirmed, that it violated the Constitution’s provision that a “plurality,” not a “majority” wins elections.

The court explained why the “plurality” clause, adopted in 1880, replaced the “majority” we once had. It was designed to prevent repetition of a bitter 1879 election dispute in which no gubernatorial candidate received a majority; two rivals claimed victory.

Procedures for resolving such disputes were complex and undemocratic, and tensions escalated as two militias encamped at the State House. Only intervention by Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain, a four-term governor, convinced both sides to resolve things peacefully. It’s been “plurality” ever since.

The Supreme Court wanted to avoid a similar dispute in 2018. By contrast, referendum supporters advocated holding an election that could produce a ranked choice winner, and a plurality winner.

The courts could then decide constitutionality, awarding the governorship — the likely scenario — to one candidate or another, much as the U.S. Supreme Court made George W. Bush president. So much for “civility” through ranked choice.

Stressing the situation’s uniqueness, and its dangers, the court unanimously decided the question early. In doing so, it mitigated the legacy of a 24-year-old decision many believe was wrongly decided.

In 1993, legislative term limits supporters advanced a referendum transparently intended to dethrone House Speaker John Martin, who had served 18 years and seemed bent on lifetime appointment. Despite a ballot-tampering scandal that ousted him a year later, Martin refused to step down, and voters overwhelmingly enacted term limits.

They could do so because the Supreme Court green-lighted the referendum, saying limiting terms did not impose new conditions, along with age, residence, and citizenship, specified in the Constitution. It divided 5-2. Four years later, the Massachusetts Supreme Court unanimously struck down terms limits there, based on virtually the same language.

Which court was right? Such questions can’t be answered, but it’s hard to believe Maine’s court wasn’t affected by the near-universal desire to break John Martin’s grip.

That’s the trouble with terms limits. While they’ve unquestionably weakened the Legislature’s ability to produce effective leadership — glaringly evident during its seven-year faceoff with LePage — John Martin is still around.

Now, lawmakers face a tough choice — to amend the Constitution, or repeal ranked choice, since supporters insisted the technique apply to every elected office, even Congress.

The principal author of this mess is two-time candidate for governor Eliot Cutler. While former independent Sen. Dick Woodbury was the campaign’s public face, Cutler was the power behind it. He’s endorsed state Treasurer Terry Hayes for governor in 2018, and hopes to recruit other independents for the Legislature — banking on ranked choice.

Here’s the rub. Cutler, like most “independents,” was a Democrat nearly until he filed. Cutler, hired by George Mitchell for Ed Muskie’s 1972 presidential campaign, claimed he practically wrote major environmental laws. His top government job, deputy budget director under Jimmy Carter, followed his work on Walter Mondale’s vice presidential campaign.

Yet when Cutler returned to Maine to seek its highest office, he refused to compete in the Democratic primary, preferring the route of two former Democrats elected governor, Angus King in 1994 and Jim Longley in 1974. Cutler lost twice, but wants to accommodate future success — thus ranked-choice voting, not used in partisan races anywhere else.

There is another way, if both major parties renew themselves. What characterizes politics today, state and national, is not traditional partisanship but mindless partisanship, demanding lockstep voting.

It wasn’t always this way. As recently as the 1990s, there were healthy disagreements in both parties, and not resolved by “primarying” dissenters. Rather than seeing primary elections as first-round competitions, producing the best choices for November, they’ve become elimination tournaments, with dominant fundraising used to force out rivals. Democrats saw this happen in 2002 when John Baldacci ousted Chellie Pingree from the governor’s race, and last year, as Emily Cain evicted Joe Baldacci from the 2nd Congressional District primary.

Better outcomes require rebuilding from the ground up. But that must be the subject for another day.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 32 years. His biography, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now available. Comment is welcomed at: [email protected]