Maine will become the first state to let residents use ranked-choice voting in a statewide primary election after state officials said Monday that a petition drive had gathered enough valid signatures to allow the system to be used in the June elections.

Voters also will be asked June 12 whether they want to keep the ranked-choice system for federal elections in November. If that “people’s veto” measure is approved, it would nullify the Legislature’s vote to delay and then repeal the law passed by voters in 2016 unless the Maine Constitution is amended.

In November 2016, 52 percent of voters approved a ballot initiative that would make Maine the first state in the nation to implement ranked-choice voting. But lawmakers passed a bill last year 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.

Supporters of repealing the Legislature’s repeal of the law turned in 77,305 signatures to the Elections Division of the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions, according to a news release Monday from Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office. Dunlap’s staff said 66,687 signatures were from valid registered voters, and 10,618 signatures were not valid. To get on the ballot in June, supporters of the voting law needed a minimum of 61,123 signatures from registered Maine voters.

“The veto question will now go before voters at the primary election on June 12, 2018 and the primary elections for U.S. Senate, Governor, U.S. Congress, State Senate and State Representative will be decided by a system of ranked-choice voting,” Dunlap’s release said.

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.

Opponents of ranked-choice voting have argued that the voter-approved 2016 law is, at least in part, in conflict with the state’s constitution.

In May 2017, 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 are unconstitutional because the Maine Constitution calls for candidates to be elected by a plurality of voters. 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.

Advocates for ranked-choice voting heralded the news Monday, highlighting the winter weather that those gathering voter signatures have endured.

“There’s just no stopping the Maine people,” Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said in a prepared statement. “During the coldest months of the year, the Maine people collected at least 66,687 valid signatures in 88 days to restore ranked-choice voting and insist on more voice and more choice in our democracy.”

The vote in June will mark the first time in Maine history that voters will be asked to repeal a Legislature-approved law that essentially repealed a law passed by voters.

“The people of Maine want a system that works for us, and for our children and our grandchildren,” Cara Brown McCormick of Cape Elizabeth said in a prepared statement.

Brown McCormick, who collected more than 900 signatures, said: “Together, we stood up to the politicians who wanted to take away our right to choose the way we elect our leaders. I’m excited to rank my choices in June and to vote ‘yes’ for the People’s Veto to keep Ranked Choice Voting moving forward.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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