A federal judge said he will decide early next week whether the Republican primary on June 12 will be held under ranked-choice or traditional, plurality voting rules.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy didn’t hint Wednesday at which way he is leaning on the Maine Republican Party’s lawsuit to allow it to continue selecting its candidates by plurality – the candidate with the most votes wins even with less than 50 percent of the votes cast.

Joshua Dunlap, the party’s lawyer, told Levy during a 45-minute hearing Wednesday that using ranked-choice voting might influence who wins the party’s gubernatorial nomination. He also said delegates at the state Republican Convention this month were unanimous in their opposition to ranked-choice voting and authorized him to file suit, which has led to a request for a preliminary injunction in time for the primary.

In the ranked-choice system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no one has won 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 a candidate has a clear majority – more than 50 percent – and is declared the winner.

Ranked-choice voting was adopted by Maine voters in 2016.

With the primary less than three weeks away, the two sides have traded legal briefs at a much faster-than-normal pace.

Dunlap said the party should be free to choose its nominees as it always has. A different method could lead to a different party standard-bearer, he said, and a different message for the party to carry into the general election campaign.

“This is about changing the party’s candidate,” he told Levy, and violates a constitutional right to freely associate.

But Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardner said conducting a primary in which voters from the two political parties operate under different sets of rules would lead to “chaos.”

She also said Levy should consider that the law was adopted by voters, although she acknowledged that laws adopted by referendum can still be judged unconstitutional.

Barring an injunction, four races on June 12 would operate under ranked-choice voting: the Democratic and Republican races for gubernatorial nominations, a Republican primary for a state House seat and the race for the Democratic congressional nomination in the 2nd Congressional District

Levy said he will issue a written ruling.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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