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Ranked voting in presidential election put on hold in Maine

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Ranked choice voting won’t be used in the presidential race this November in Maine after a judge allowed a Republican-led referendum that would let voters decide whether to use the voting system in future presidential elections.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat, contended the Maine Republican Party didn’t meet the threshold for signatures for the ballot. But a state judge ruled Monday evening that the referendum can proceed. That means the voting system cannot be used in a presidential election until Maine residents vote on it in November, though it will still be used on congressional races.

“The fight to repeal ranked-choice voting marches on, and we remain laser-focused on winning in November,” said Demi Kouzounas, chair of the Maine Republican Party.

The timing of the decision leaves little recourse for further appeal. The deadline for printing ballots is Friday. Dunlap said Tuesday the ruling is being reviewed and that he could not comment on an appeal.

Maine’s ranked choice voting system, approved by state voters in 2016, has turned into a partisan issue. Republicans have been adamantly against the voting system while Democrats support the change. The GOP blamed the system for the ouster of an incumbent congressman in 2018, even though the incumbent had the most first-place votes.

Republicans have twice been rebuffed by a federal judge in their efforts to have ranked voting in congressional races declared unconstitutional. The referendum aims to overturn a state law specifying that the system also can be used in presidential elections.

Maine is the first state in the nation to adopt the voting system that lets voters rank candidates from first to last on their ballot.

A candidate who reaches 50% or more in the first round of voting is declared the winner. If there’s no majority, then there are additional tabulations, aided by computers, in which last-place finishers are eliminated and those voters’ second choices are reallocated to the remaining field.

Supporters say the system, which is used in a number of municipalities across the country, eliminates the impact of spoilers and ensures a majority winner without the need for a runoff election.

Critics say it’s unnecessarily complicated. They’ve also argued that it disenfranchises voters.

In the latest legal action, the Maine GOP sued after the secretary of state concluded the petitions fell short of the threshold of 63,068 signatures necessary to appear on the ballot. The decision issued by Superior Court Justice Thomas McKeon validated another 988 signatures, exceeding the threshold by a mere 22 signatures.

The League of Women voters lamented that there could be another statewide vote on ranked voting — the third in four years.

“Mainers have already made their decision clear year after year. They want ranked choice voting in their elections. Putting it on the ballot a third time will not change their minds,” said Anna Kellar, the executive director.

Ranked voting was used for the first time in 2018 when Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin collected the most first-round votes but ultimately lost to Democrat Jared Golden in a second round of tabulation.

A federal judged rejected Poliquin’s lawsuit over the election outcome and upheld the constitutionality of the voting system. The same judge again upheld the constitutionality of the system this month.

Because the voting system runs afoul of the Maine Constitution, it is not used in the governor’s race or legislative contests.