Supporters of ranked-choice voting have been braving sub-freezing temperatures, armed with pens and petitions, to stop the legislative repeal of the people’s law. And it paid off the moment we turned in 80,000 signatures, well above the number we originally submitted.

But longtime supporters and benefiters of the status quo are using scare tactics to stop Maine people from being able to vote their hopes, not their fears. Opponents are saying that ranked-choice voting will bring “chaos,” suggesting the results will not be known “for weeks.” Let’s be clear, the secretary of state has had since November 2016 to prepare for the June primary with ranked-choice voting.

As one of the initiators of the original referendum, I can say more than most just how much work went into getting our initiative on the ballot in the first place, let alone going door to door explaining ranked-choice voting to voters. At every step of the way establishment politicos and many lawmakers said, “The voters won’t understand it.”

Newsflash: Voters aren’t stupid.

Voters understand that the current system is broke. We understand that minority candidates with minority views can and do win elections. And we understand the growing trend from dismissing the values of voters to being openly hostile to us.

Voters wanted a chance to elect better politicians, but a majority of Augusta politicians — with even some Democrats — thought Mainers were just fine with the politicians they had. So they effectively repealed ranked-choice voting to stop voters from fixing this broken system.


But let’s be clear, this isn’t just about ranked-choice voting. The Robin Hood tax to fund education was repealed; parts of the minimum wage law were repealed; and the marijuana legalization implementation has been unnecessarily chaotic at best. Before that, the Clean Elections initiative was mucked with, and we are still awaiting implementation of Medicaid expansion passed just last fall.

It’s easy to blame the “irresponsible” voters in each of these scenarios, but the fact remains that it is the elected leaders in Augusta who have negotiated the people’s laws away. Or, rather, stood by and watched others do it for them, justifying their votes with self-created gray areas.

The reason people braved the cold weather to get this done is because they recognize that democracy itself is at stake.

When voters go to the polls and elect people to represent them, they deserve real representation. And when the people pass law after law after law at the ballot box because the political system itself has been so fundamentally corrupted that real fixes cannot be passed, they expect those laws to be enacted within the spirit of the law. All lawmakers had to do in most of these referenda was get out of the way.

Indeed the Maine Supreme Judicial Court did weigh in on ranked-choice voting, although it was not through an actual ruling. The court’s “advisory opinion” on the general election for governor and State House provided enough fodder for opponents to justify voting to effectively repeal the whole thing outright, including federal elections and primaries whose constitutionality are not in question. Lawmakers could have passed a constitutional amendment, which the ranked-choice voting team supports, but they refused. They didn’t even have the courage to repeal it outright, preferring to vote to “delay” and then automatically repeal in a future Legislature so wouldn’t have to tell their outraged voters they repealed it. (They did.)

Opponents want you to hear that the constitutionality of the whole kit and kaboodle is in question. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The only elections in question are the general elections for the State House and governor in the fall. Primaries and federal races — U.S. Senate and U.S. House — have zero legal questions.


The people’s veto referendum to save ranked-choice voting will restore only the sections of the law that are not in constitutional question. That means that once our signatures are certified by the secretary of state, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians and Republicans will all have the right to vote for multiple candidates, not just one.

As Jonathan Fishman, Lincolnville town selectman, and drummer and vocalist from the legendary band Phish, said at a recent event, “When people speak as loudly as they did during the election in 2016 about the importance of their democracy, we need to stand up, take notice and do something about it. It is not OK to ignore the will of the people.”

Ignore the “can’t do” voices out there because Mainers may have just saved democracy — one signature at a time.

Diane Russell, a former state legislator, is a Democratic candidate for governor.

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