Maine election officials are hurrying to implement a new voting system in time for the June primary, marking the first use of ranked-choice voting in statewide primary elections.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap plans to submit proposed rules governing the voting method this week.

“It is exciting to finally have a clear mandate of what we’re doing. But it’s also very daunting because we’ve never done this before,” Dunlap said. “You get only one crack at it. There are no do-overs in elections.”

The system lets voters rank candidates from first to last. A candidate who wins an outright majority of first-place votes is declared the winner.

But if there’s no majority winner, then it could take a week or more for ballots to be brought to Augusta, entered into a computer and tabulated. Under the system, last-place candidates are eliminated. There are additional tallies until there’s a majority winner.

The aggressive timetable came into play when ranked-choice voters submitted signatures to force a statewide vote to repeal a legislative delay.

The signatures were certified March 5, allowing ranked-choice to be used in June on the same day voters decide whether it’ll be used going forward. Election officials estimate the system will add about $800,000 to the cost of the June election, bringing the total to about $1 million.

Ranked-choice proponents say the system eliminates the impact of spoilers or extremists who lack centrist appeal.

Kyle Bailey, from the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said the state is leading the way.

“Folks across the country are looking to Maine to see how it goes,” he said.

Nationwide, more than a dozen cities have adopted ranked-choice voting, but it’s only been used once in a statewide election – to fill a North Carolina judgeship in 2010.

In Maine, there are many things to be sorted out before June.

The state must determine the ballot layout and the secure transfer of ballots. There has to be an effort to educate voters that the outcomes may not be known right away. The process has to be done quickly, but in a thorough and transparent way to ensure voters have faith in the outcome, Dunlap said.

There’s been something of a tortured path for ranked-choice voting in Maine.

Voters adopted the election overhaul with a statewide referendum in November 2016, but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the system runs afoul of the Maine Constitution when it comes to legislative and gubernatorial races. Thus the system currently applies only to primary elections and to federal races in general elections in Maine.

Whether the system is in place for November’s general election depends on the outcome of the vote to repeal the legislative delay.

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