The Maine Republican Party was granted a temporary restraining order against the city of Portland on Tuesday, allowing it to collect signatures at polling places for a people’s veto campaign to prohibit ranked-choice voting from being used in presidential elections.

The party sought a temporary restraining order in Cumberland County Superior Court on Tuesday morning, after city officials prevented them from gathering signatures at Portland’s polling locations.

Petitioners are typically allowed to gather signatures as voters leave polling places, but the party was denied because of election officials’ concerns about influencing a Portland referendum seeking to expand ranked-choice voting in the city.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said he was pleased with the court’s decision, but lamented that signature gatherers lost a half day at the polls.

“We are pleased that the Superior Court recognized this as we did – an illegal attempt to silence the voices of Portland residents,” Savage said. “Despite a long history in Maine of allowing groups to collect signatures at the polls for ballot referendums, Portland city officials attempted to deny this same right to Maine citizens who are working to restore one-man, one-vote voting in Maine; a ballot system which produced senators like Olympia Snowe, and Margaret Chase Smith, decades of successful governors, and winning United States presidents of both political parties.”

Ranked-choice voting has been used to elect Portland’s mayor since 2011. The voting method was expanded by the Legislature last year to statewide and federal primaries, and it’s on track to be used in presidential primaries in 2024.

Portland’s municipal ballot includes a question asking voters to expand ranked-choice voting to all City Council and school board races.

Maine Republicans are collecting signatures around the state for a people’s veto that would prevent the voting method from being used in presidential primaries. They will have 90 days from the legislative session’s end, likely in April or May, to gather the 63,607 signatures needed to put the repeal question on the November ballot.

If the repeal effort fails, ranked-choice voting would be used in presidential primaries and general elections beginning in 2024.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Republicans were originally told they could not collect signatures in Portland because there was a similar question on the municipal ballot. He said his office has a standing rule that prohibits people from collecting signatures at polling locations where voters are deciding a similar issue.

“Oftentimes people go in and out the same door,” Dunlap said. “They might be circulating for something that’s so similar to something that’s already on the ballot that it causes confusion among the voters.”

State law prevents any sort of electioneering within 250 feet of a polling location.

City Clerk Katherine Jones could not be reached for an interview Tuesday.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said she became aware of the issue after Monday’s City Council meeting. By the time she voted at the Woodford’s Club at around 2 p.m. Tuesday, people were collecting signatures for the people’s veto, she said.

Communications Director Jessica Grondin said in a written statement that the city’s initial decision was made after consulting the Secretary of State’s Office. She described the state law around these situations as “somewhat undeveloped” and said the city appreciated the court’s guidance.

“The clerk’s decision, after consulting with the Secretary of State’s Office, was based on the need to protect the rights of both sides in this situation – that of the voter’s ability to vote without undue influence and the GOP’s ability to gather signatures for its petition,” Grondin said. “As soon as (the city received) the direction from the court, the clerk promptly made space available (in addition to the outside area already provided) to accommodate the plaintiffs’ signature-gathering process.”

Dunlap said these issues emerge every few election cycles, but he does not recall a time when someone sought and received a retraining order.

“Not on this matter, no,” he said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.