AUGUSTA — Supporters of ranked-choice voting submitted more than 80,000 signatures Friday to send the issue back to the Maine ballot in June after lawmakers voted to delay and potentially repeal the law.

In November 2016, voters approved a ballot initiative that would make Maine the first state in the nation to implement ranked-choice voting. But lawmakers passed a law delaying the effective date until December 2021 and then repealing the ranked-choice voting process altogether if a constitutional amendment hasn’t been passed by then to address legal concerns.

Ranked-choice voting supporters responded last fall by launching a “people’s veto” campaign to overturn the Legislature’s decision to delay and repeal the law. Volunteers then collected more than 80,000 signatures during an 88-day period that included some of the coldest weeks in recent history. The campaign needs 61,123 signatures from registered Maine voters to qualify for the Maine ballot, and campaign spokeswoman Crystal Canney said town clerks have already certified 72,175 of the roughly 80,000 signatures.

In the meantime, the law to delay and repeal ranked-choice voting was effectively suspended once the group delivered the signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office on Friday.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time ever that the people passed a law, the Legislature said, ‘We know better’ and repealed it, and the people have risen right back up to say, ‘We insist!’ ” Dick Woodbury, campaign chairman and a former state senator from Yarmouth, told supporters at the State House on Friday. “It’s hard work. A lot of volunteers have done a lot of hard work, but it is citizen democracy at its finest.”

This sets up an unprecedented – and potentially confusing – scenario in June, when voters will decide whether to restore ranked-choice voting in Maine, even as they use the ranked-choice system in the primary races for governor, Legislature and Congress.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no one has more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process continues until one candidate has a clear majority and is declared the winner.

Questions have been raised about the constitutionality of the system in Maine, however.

In May, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a unanimous advisory opinion suggesting parts of the ranked-choice law applying to races for governor and the Legislature were unconstitutional because the Maine Constitution calls for candidates to be elected by a “plurality.” A proposed constitutional amendment failed to pass the Legislature, resulting in the deeply divided but successful votes to delay the law and then potentially repeal it.

National attention will be on Maine next June as voters decide – once again – whether to adopt the vote-tabulation system. While several cities around the country – including Portland – use ranked-choice voting, it has never been implemented statewide.

If the “people’s veto” initiative is certified for the ballot, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office will have roughly three months to implement the system in time for the June primaries. And with more than a dozen candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor alone, the June primaries will be a real test for Dunlap’s office as well as the town clerks who run local elections. But Dunlap said “there’s no chance at a dry-run,” meaning they have to get it right on the first shot.

“We have been thinking about this and plotting out different strategies for implementation of this (process) for quite some time,” Dunlap said. “The challenge is that the Legislature hasn’t been providing any additional resources.”

Dunlap’s office has estimated it will cost roughly $1.5 million to implement ranked-choice voting in Maine. Using a space analogy, Dunlap said his office has been using pencil and paper to plot out a rocket mission to the moon.

“They are going to have to help us get a rocket because you can’t get to the moon with pencil on paper,” Dunlap said.

The atmosphere at the State House was electric Friday as volunteers – many of whom had spent weeks in the bitter cold gathering signatures – gathered to deliver boxes of petitions to Dunlap’s office. During a news conference beforehand, speakers accused the Legislature of trying to ignore or derail the “will of the voters.”

“These signatures symbolize a rebellion against politicians who think that they know better what is best for us,” said Nicole Grohoski, an Ellsworth resident who helped collect signatures.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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