Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, center, listens in on the special session in the House of Representatives in Augusta on Monday. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel)

AUGUSTA – A citizen-backed law that made Maine the first state in the nation to adopted a ranked choice voting system will be delayed and possibly repealed, following a series of contentious votes Monday in a special session of the Legislature.

The Senate voted 19-16 to delay the law until December of 2021 – and then repeal it if a constitutional amendment hasn’t been passed by then to address legal concerns raised by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The House held five votes, then finally agreed with the Senate on a 73-65 tally.

Leaders of the campaign that passed ranked choice voting at the ballot box last November nearly immediately vowed to bring forward a citizen-backed veto of the Legislature’s action, if it is signed by Gov. Paul LePage.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If no one had more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process would continue until one candidate had a clear majority and was declared the winner.

In May, in response to a request from the Senate, the state’s highest court issued an opinion that ranked choice voting violated the Maine Constitution, which states that the candidate with a plurality, or the most votes cast even if less than a majority, wins the election for governor or seats in the Legislature.

Rep. Kent Ackley, an independent from Monmouth, reminded House members that voters had endorsed ranked choice voting at referendum, following a constitutional process that lawmakers were sworn to uphold.

“If we let the fear of change result in a delay or an override of the method that the voters of Maine told us to use we will be undermining the voters’ faith and their faith in the power of their votes, their faith in self governance and we will be stoking the flames of fear and cynicism that might take our state to a darker place,” he said.

But Sen. Bill Diamond, a Windham Democrat who served as Maine’s Secretary of State, warned his colleagues against dropping “this mother of all nightmares” on local election clerks and town officials. Diamond said recount processes are already complicated and time-consuming, even without the complexities of a ranked-choice voting system. So he supported the proposal to delay implementation until at least 2021.

“We tried to amend the state constitution and it didn’t even come close,” Diamond said in reference to a constitutional amendment proposal that failed during this year’s legislative session. “It would be clearly irresponsible to leave something on the books that we know is going to be unconstitutional.”

The Legislature also agreed to amend a new food sovereignty law, that it passed and Gov. Paul LePage signed into law earlier this year. The new law prompted a federal threat to shut down state-inspected slaughterhouses, potentially jeopardizing the livelihoods of many farmers. The Senate quickly approved a fix to the law, while the House followed suit passing the bill amending the law with unanimous consent.

The Senate also confirmed several appointments by Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Monday, including ones for two members of Gov. Paul LePage’s cabinet. The Senate confirmed the appointment of Ricker Hamilton as the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. Hamilton who has been serving as acting commissioner since June replaces Mary Mayhew who resigned to post to seek the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in 2018. The Senate also confirmed Alex Porteous as Commissioner of the Department of Administration and Financial Services.

The Senate also confirmed five superior and district court judges that LePage had nominated for appointment and then withdrew the nominations for and then rescinded his nomination withdrawals of.

While the both the House and the Senate met Monday morning, by late afternoon both bodies remained in recess as Republicans and Democrats caucused to build support for their competing positions on ranked choice voting and recreational marijuana.

This story will be updated.

Press Herald Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.


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