The Maine Secretary of State’s Office erased any lingering doubts Tuesday over whether ranked-choice voting would be in effect for the June 12 primary election when it published the ballots that will be used that day.

Ranked-choice voting will be used only in the primaries for governor in both political parties, in the Democratic primary for the U.S. House seat in the 2nd District, and in one Republican primary for a seat in the Maine House.

The June primaries mark the first time that ranked-choice voting will have been used in a statewide election in the United States.

The League of Women Voters of Maine issued a statement Tuesday calling the publication of the primary ballots on the state’s website a “historic development.”

“The ballot is clear and easy to understand, and we think it will lead to a good voting experience in the June 12 primaries,” said Jill Ward, president of the league. “This is the first party primary election ever to use ranked choice voting in the United States. We are pleased to see that the ballots were designed to be easy for the public to use and understand.”

The implementation of ranked-choice voting comes after a lengthy legal tussle with the Maine Senate, which went to court to in an effort to delay the new system until after Dec. 1, 2021. But on April 17, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that ranked-choice voting should be allowed in the June primary.

The court’s decision gave Secretary of State Matt Dunlap the authorization he needed to proceed, and on Tuesday morning his staff published the ranked-choice voting ballots that will be used in the June 12 primary.

Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the dispute, which has dragged on for months, had left some voters confused about whether ranked-choice would be in effect for the June primary.

“We want people to know that ranked-choice voting is going to happen,” Muszynski said. “That (legal wrangling) has been a point of confusion, for sure.”

Toward that end, the Secretary of State’s Office on Tuesday dedicated an entire page on its website to explaining how the new voting system will work in June.

The web page is called Resources for Ranked-choice Voting and includes sample ballots, a link to frequently asked questions, and a timeline that details the history behind the move toward ranked-choice voting.

Muszynski said Tuesday that the web page is still in the process of being developed. It will eventually feature an animated video providing voters with an explanation of the voting process and how votes will be tabulated. The web page will also describe the rules governing ranked-choice voting, as some people have struggled with how to vote for their candidate or candidates of choice.

“We are going to break it down for them in a very understandable way,” she said.

Ranked-choice voting, sometimes called instant runoff voting, allows voters to choose their candidates in order of preference by marking candidates as their first, second, third and subsequent choices. The votes are tabulated in rounds, with the lowest-ranked candidates eliminated in each round until there are only two candidates left. The candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the final is declared the winner.

Ranked-choice voting will be used in both Democratic and Republican primaries for governor and the Democratic primary for 2nd District House seat now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Ranked-choice voting will also be used in the Republican District 75 race for the Maine House of Representatives. District 75 includes the towns of Leeds, Turner and part of Livermore.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, Maine voters approved ranked-choice voting in November 2016, with 388,273 voting in favor and 356,621 opposed. The statewide referendum question contained a provision that said the new system could not be implemented until after Jan. 1, 2018.

During a special legislative session in October 2017, lawmakers passed an act that delayed the implementation of ranked-choice voting until after Dec. 1, 2021, with the provision it would be repealed unless, by that date, an amendment to the Maine Constitution allowing its use in all state elections had been approved.

According to Dunlap, the law did not go into effect because it was suspended by the filing of a valid people’s veto referendum in February.

If approved June 12, the people’s veto ballot question would allow ranked-choice voting to be used for primary and federal elections, including for the offices of U.S. Senate and House, in Maine’s November 2018 general election.

Plurality voting would remain in effect in November for statewide officers such as governor, state representative and state senator.

It could cost the state between $360,000 and $410,000 to pay for the costs associated with implementing ranked-choice for the June primary.

 

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