You might not have noticed it, but recently the Maine Legislature essentially threw out the results of an election.

Usually, the government completely ignoring the will of the people is the sort of thing that only happens in developing countries without a 200-year democratic tradition. We recently saw this in Venezuela, for example, where strongman Nicolás Maduro basically tossed out the results of the congressional elections that the opposition unexpectedly won.

The Legislature took a similar approach to the recently passed ranked-choice voting initiative. Rather than amending the state constitution to allow ranked-choice voting to work, or only keeping the parts of ranked-choice voting that are constitutional, the Legislature passed a bill that delays ranked-choice voting until 2021 and repeals it entirely if no constitutional fix is passed. Essentially, this is a shadow repeal that completely overturns the results of last year’s referendum election.

Now, the Legislature has every right to modify citizen initiatives after they’re passed, or even to repeal them; that’s not in question.

They made major changes to both the marijuana legalization and minimum wage referenda. In both of those cases they allowed major elements of the initiatives to go into effect on schedule. They were, essentially, compromises between advocates of the referendums and the Legislature itself, though they were large enough changes that they should have been referred back to the voters for our input directly.

But with ranked-choice voting there was no compromise. The Legislature essentially admitted they were deadlocked and had no intent of finding a way to make ranked-choice voting work. This was because the GOP was almost unified in opposition, and enough establishment Democrats were worried about the possible negative consequences for themselves that they went along with the Republicans.


Given the partisan division in Augusta these days, perhaps — ironically — ranked-choice voting advocates should be applauded for achieving that level of bipartisanship.

That was a huge, unforced error on the part of the Legislature that was disrespectful of the will of the people and could cost them severely in forthcoming elections. That’s not because ranked-choice voting is such a great idea, or because it passed overwhelmingly — it isn’t, and it didn’t. Ranked-choice voting is unnecessary and poor public policy that fails to achieve its somewhat arbitrary goal of a candidate getting the majority of votes.

However, it was passed by the voters — albeit by a narrow margin with one side vastly outspending the other. The Legislature should have respected that vote, and tried to find some way to retain as much of the referendum as possible under the constitution. Instead, they abdicated that responsibility and chose to, essentially, ditch the law.

Fortunately, ranked-choice voting advocates have the opportunity to overturn this repeal of their referendum. If they can collect 61,000 signatures over the next approximately 90 days, they can put the new law back before the voters — as the Legislature should have in the first place. This is no different than when a piece of legislation is sent back and forth between the House and the Senate with different reports — they either go to conference and resolve their differences or the legislation is dead.

The Legislature’s inability to accept the outcome of a free and fair election shouldn’t just be of concern to ranked-choice voting supporters, but to all of us as citizens.

There used to be great respect for the will of the voters in Augusta: referendums were usually implemented as closely to the original as possible, and legislators didn’t just go about repealing or making wholesale changes to them.


That’s why, when the GOP took control of the Legislature in 2010, they didn’t simply ditch Clean Elections, even though most conservatives hate it. It had been passed overwhelmingly by the voters, and Republicans recognized that, even if they weren’t happy about it. It was a generally understood political convention — an unwritten rule.

Now, though, legislators seem to feel free to disregard any referendum results they don’t like, and that’s extremely worrisome.

If you’ve ever campaigned for any citizen initiative, that should bother you. There are certainly problems with the referendum process that the Legislature should address, but that doesn’t give legislators license to ignore them. Instead, they should try to work together in a bipartisan way to reform the process to prevent further abuse.

That would be the responsible way to govern, and that’s what we deserve out of Augusta, instead of our voices as citizens simply being silenced.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

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