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Judge tosses lawsuit challenging Maine’s ranked-choice voting law

Jeff Ham :: Press Herald
The decision comes 2 days after Maine's secretary of state affirmed his earlier ruling that the Maine Republican Party did not...



Judge tosses lawsuit challenging Maine’s ranked-choice voting law

The decision comes 2 days after Maine's secretary of state affirmed his earlier ruling that the Maine Republican Party did not gather enough valid signatures to force a people's veto of the law.

A federal judge Friday denied a request by opponents of Maine’s ranked-choice voting law for an order to prohibit the system from being used in the U.S. Senate race in November.

Judge Lance Walker, photographed in 2016 Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

U.S. District Court Judge Lance E. Walker, an appointee of President Trump, sided against a group of plaintiffs that had support from the Maine Republican Party and national Republicans as well.

“My limited charge is to determine only whether the RCV (ranked-choice voting) Act is contrary to the text of the United States Constitution. It is not,” Walker wrote in his decision. “As I stated following my first encounter with RCV litigation: The remedy in a democracy, when no constitutional infirmity appears likely, is to exercise the protected rights of speech and association granted by the First Amendment to persuade one’s fellow citizens of the correctness of one’s position and to petition the political branch to change the law.”

Judge Walker moved swiftly to deny the request just one day after oral arguments were made . He previously ruled that Maine’s law, first passed by voters in 2016, is constitutional. The law has withstood a barrage of legal challenges and was reaffirmed by voters again in a 2017 people’s veto vote that overturned a repeal of the law by the Legislature.

Since then, the Legislature passed a law in 2019 that extends the ranked-choice system to presidential primaries and presidential elections in Maine, which the Maine Republican Party has been trying to overturn.

Cara McCormick, treasurer of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said the recent decision is the latest affirmation that the law will “stand up to any appeal and to the test of time.”

“Voters have supported ranked-choice voting in two free and fair statewide elections,” she said. “They have made it clear that they like ranked-choice voting, and want to use it. It’s an election reform that gives voters more voice.”

The plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit are four Maine voters: Robert Hagopian of Madison, Duane Lander of Greenville, Sterling Robinson of Warren and James Trudel of Hermon. Three are registered Republicans; one is a registered independent. Stephen Obermeier, an attorney for the plaintiffs, argued Thursday that a significant number of voters were confused by the process and therefore disenfranchised. Judge Walker disagreed.

Ranked-choice voting allows – but does not require – voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If one candidate gets more than 50 percent in the first round, that person wins. If no one receives a majority, the ranked preferences are used to decide the winner. Maine was the first state to adopt ranked-choice voting for statewide elections.

In addition to the federal lawsuit, the Maine Republican Party has attempted to overturn Maine ranked-choice voting law through the people’s veto process, but that effort has not been successful. Just this week, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap reaffirmed his earlier ruling that the Republican party’s efforts to gather enough signatures for a people’s veto fell short by 1,775 signatures.

Dunlap issued an “amended determination” late Wednesday that summarized his review of a ruling he made in July that the petition came up short of the 63,067 valid signatures needed to gain a spot on the statewide ballot. The affirmation will now be considered by a Cumberland County Superior Court judge, who ordered Dunlap to review his earlier decision in response to a lawsuit filed by the state Republican Party.

During the review, Dunlap considered sworn affidavits and other documents submitted as part of the lawsuit. He accepted some voter signatures that had previously been rejected, but he also invalidated some that had previously been accepted.

Some of the signatures were rejected because they were not of registered voters, and others because those who gathered them failed to follow requirements spelled out in state law for notarizing petitions and submitting them to municipal clerks, Dunlap said in the review document.

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