PORTLAND, Maine – Ranked choice voting will be used for the first time in a presidential race in the U.S. under a ruling Tuesday by the Maine Supreme Court, which concluded that a GOP-led petition drive intended to prevent its use came up short.
The Supreme Judicial Court concluded the Maine Republican Party failed to reach the threshold of signatures needed for a “People’s Veto” referendum aimed at rejecting a state law that expands ranked choice voting to the presidential election.
“This is a powerful moment for ranked choice voting supporters: Voters will, for the first time, use ranked choice voting to elect the highest office in the country,” said Rob Richie, president and CEO of FairVote, which advocates for the voting reform.
The court's decision, just six weeks before the election, was issued after the state already began printing ballots using a grid-style for ranked elections.
“As we have already printed the ballots, due to the federal deadlines we must meet to provide ballots for overseas and military voters, this decision comes as a great relief and avoids the complications, confusion and expense that would have arisen from reprinting and reissuing ballots,” said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.
Under the voting system, voters are allowed to rank all candidates on the ballot. If no one wins a majority of first-place votes, then there are additional tabulations, aided by computers, in which last-place finishers are eliminated and votes reallocated based on those supporters’ second-place choices. Transporting the ballots to Augusta for additional tabulations delays results for about a week.
In Maine, the presidential ballot will feature five names, including Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Ranked voting will also be used in U.S. House races and the closely watched U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Susan Collins and Democrat Sara Gideon, the Maine House speaker.
The voting system adds another wrinkle to the presidential contest in Maine, which — as one of two states that divide electoral votes — already does things differently.