AUGUSTA — A coalition that backed Maine’s first-in-the-nation ranked-choice voting law is hoping to extend that process to races for the Legislature and the governor’s office.

The proposal by Democracy Maine, which includes the Maine League of Women Voters and the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, is one of several election reform measures facing lawmakers.

Other bills would allow unenrolled voters to participate in party primaries, create an instant voter registration system, return Maine to a presidential primary system, create an early voting system and increase funding for the clean elections system and the state’s ethics commission, which oversees campaign finance law.

Anna Kellar, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Maine and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said there’s an opportunity to make “forward momentum” on ranked-choice voting and other election reforms now that Democrats hold the Blaine House and both chambers of the Legislature.

“Just the sheer interest from the public in voting reform and support of ranked-choice voting has transferred into a lot of bills,” Kellar said. But she acknowledged that expanding ranked-choice will require some Republican votes.

That’s because expanding ranked choice to State House and gubernatorial elections will require an amendment to the Maine Constitution, a process that begins with a two-thirds vote of support in both the Maine House and Senate. The amendment would then go to a statewide referendum for a majority vote.


Ranked-choice voting is now limited to races for Congress and party primaries, based on an advisory opinion from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in 2017 that referenced the Maine Constitution. The constitution says the winners of elections to the State House and the governor’s office must be determined by plurality vote.

Advocates of extending the system say that Mainers have voted twice in favor of ranked-choice voting. Voters first approved the system in 2016, and they also voted in 2018 to overturn a legislative repeal of the law.

“I know there are a lot of members in the House and the Senate that are not amorous of ranked-choice voting, but they also understand that when the voters weigh in this many times on a citizens’ initiative, they are to be listened to,” said Rep. Kent Ackley, an independent from Monmouth who supports a constitutional amendment.

Opponents to ranked-choice voting, mostly Republicans, say the system is costly, confusing and unfair, and it violates the principle of “one person, one vote.” They point to the lengthy retabulation process and the subsequent legal challenges to ranked-choice voting by former 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican. He lost his seat in 2018 to challenger Jared Golden, a Democrat from Lewiston, in the nation’s first application of a ranked-choice system in a U.S. congressional race.

A federal court ruled against Poliquin and three other Maine voters who challenged the election’s outcome under the U.S. Constitution, and a subsequent appeal of that ruling was later withdrawn by Poliquin.

Legislative Republicans say they have no appetite for amending the constitution to facilitate ranked-choice voting.


“I think we’ve proven what a fiasco ranked-choice voting was last fall,” said Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, the Senate’s assistant minority leader.

Ackley and Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, have joined forces to create the Democracy Reform Caucus in the Legislature. Chenette has sponsored or co-sponsored most of the voting reform measures. He is the primary sponsor of legislation that would restrict contributions from lobbyists to political candidates and campaigns in Maine, as well as a measure that would extend a ban on lobbying by former lawmakers who leave office from one year to four.

The bill prohibiting lobbyist donations will be the subject of a public hearing Wednesday before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over voting and election law.

Conservatives also have bills aimed at voting reform, including another proposal for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit municipalities from allowing noncitizens to participate in municipal elections. Noncitizens are already prohibited from voting in state and federal elections.

That measure, sponsored by freshman Rep. Billy-Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, was prompted, in part, by an effort in Portland that would have granted noncitizen residents the right to vote in city elections and ballot measures. That effort, promoted by Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, was put on hold last August when supporters realized they didn’t have the votes on the City Council to move the policy forward.

“My bill seeks to maintain the integrity of the voting process,” Faulkingham said. “I feel it is important to be a U.S. citizen in order to vote in any of our elections.”

Comments are no longer available on this story