AUGUSTA – Questions were swirling Thursday about whether Mainers will use the ranked-choice voting system in the June primaries after Secretary of State Matt Dunlap raised concerns about a conflict in the law.

Dunlap said his office was notified late Wednesday about “legal concerns regarding the implementation of ranked-choice voting” and, as a result, Dunlap was reviewing the law. While Dunlap said he was moving forward with implementing ranked-choice voting in time for the June 12th primaries during that review, the surprise announcement of new “legal concerns” sparked a frenzy of activity in Augusta to salvage the vote tabulation system.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting announced plans to seek a court injunction to force Dunlap to implement the law by June.

“In the 15 months since voters enacted Ranked Choice Voting as Maine law, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has consistently avoided its implementation,” Dick Woodbury, chairman of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said in a statement.

The issue appears to be focused on language in a bill passed by the Legislature last year that sought to delay implementation of the new system in which voters rank candidates in order of their preference. Those rankings are then used to select a winner if no one receives a majority of votes after the first tabulation. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, which led the initial November 2016 ballot campaign, then successfully gathered more than 62,000 signatures to suspend the bill delaying the implementation of ranked-choice voting.

Dunlap said there is a conflict in different statutes about whether the June primary winners must still be based on whoever receives the most votes, or a “plurality,” or the majority tabulation achieved by ranked-choice voting.

“My role as the chief elections administrator is to implement the law and ensure that the voting process is accessible, secure and accurate,” Dunlap said. “While this new legal concern is under review, we will continue our implementation process for ranked-choice voting for the June 12, 2018 Primary Election.”

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Dunlap is expected to lay out his explanation for why ranked-choice voting cannot be used this June to a legislative committee on Thursday afternoon, a meeting that was originally scheduled to hear his plans for implementing the new system.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting had already filed a lawsuit to require Dunlap to implement the law. But after Thursday’s developments, the campaign announced plans to seek a court injunction to force Dunlap’s hand and accused the Democratic secretary of state of waging “a desperate last-minute attempt … to avoid obeying the law.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Janet Mills, one of seven Democrats in the gubernatorial primary whose candidacies would be affected by ranked choice voting, said she planned to seek a legislative fix to the situation – an unlikely outcome, given strong opposition among Republican lawmakers to ranked-choice voting.

“The issue raised by the Secretary of State this morning, which I was made aware of for the first time today, needs to be addressed immediately so that the will of the people may be respected,” Mills said in a statement. “The more than 62,000 citizens who signed the Peoples’ Veto petitions deserve to have their voices heard. The will of the people must not be thwarted by some technicality in the law. I will file legislation today to be presented to the Legislative Council to ensure that Rank Choice Voting is in full effect for this June’s primary as the people have dictated. I call on the Legislative Council to meet in an emergency session to address this urgent issue.”

This story will be updated.


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