Mainers may not learn the winners of some of Tuesday’s primary elections until nearly a week later because of the logistics of the ranked-choice voting process, according to the timeline the Secretary of State’s Office released Thursday.

With seven Democrats and four Republicans seeking their parties’ nominations for governor, it appears unlikely that any candidate will emerge with a majority of the votes after the first ballot count Tuesday night. As a result, the winners of the two gubernatorial primaries – and potentially the Democratic race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District – could be decided using the ranked-choice voting method.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office said Thursday that the tabulation process will not begin until next Friday because state law gives municipalities three days to send paper ballots and memory devices containing voting results to Augusta. Additionally, the ballot tabulation process will take place only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In a break with procedure, however, Dunlap’s office will release unofficial results of the first-choice voting and subsequent ranked-choice tabulation rounds.

“These results will be released as soon as they are available, likely during the week of June 18,” Dunlap’s office said in the advisory. “Dates are subject to change and the public will be updated during the process. Results tabulation will be subject to the expediency of the ballot/memory device collection and staff time to process the materials, which includes unlocking and unsealing each ballot box; unsealing and uploading all the memory devices, and loading all of these votes into the high-speed tabulator results program.”

Dunlap’s office also has posted information and a video to help Mainers navigate the ranked-choice process.

The delays are attributable to the logistics of the process.

Two days after the election, a contracted courier service will begin collecting paper ballots and memory devices from municipalities for transport to a central location in Augusta. Because some Maine towns still hand-count ballots, those sheets will have to be loaded – along with the results from municipalities’ memory devices – into the special computers that will run the complicated ranked-choice tabulation algorithm.

The tabulation process will be open to the public and the media, although they will not have access to ballots or the computers.

Maine will be the first state in the nation to use ranked-choice voting in a statewide election on Tuesday.

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Under the ranked-choice system, voters select candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the first count, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Voters who preferred the eliminated candidate would then have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process continues until only two candidates remain, and whoever has the majority of the votes is declared the winner.

Maine’s experiment with the ranked-choice system has been years in the making. Voters approved a ranked-choice ballot measure in November 2016 only to see the Legislature pass a bill months later to delay implementation and potentially repeal the process.

Ranked-choice advocates then collected enough petition signatures to suspend that law and hold a “people’s veto” vote on the issue that is on the ballot Tuesday. But opponents of ranked-choice in the Maine Senate and the Maine Republican Party took the issue to the state’s highest court and a federal court, only to see their efforts to thwart the process fail.

As a result, Maine voters will utilize ranked-choice voting in the primary elections for the first time even as they vote on whether to keep the ranked-choice system . A “yes” vote on Question 1 would keep ranked-choice voting for future primary and congressional elections, while a “no” vote would delay and potentially repeal the system.

All registered voters can cast ballots on Question 1, but only registered Democrats and Republicans can participate in their parties’ primary elections.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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