The Maine Republican Party filed a last-minute court appeal Monday, asking a judge to overturn the decision of Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to allow ranked-choice voting in the November presidential election.

The party filed the appeal just before Cumberland County Superior Court closed for business and on the last day of a 10-day window for contesting Dunlap’s action.

Earlier this month, Dunlap rejected the party’s petition for a citizen’s veto to overturn a new law expanding Maine’s first-in-the-nation, ranked-choice voting law to presidential primaries and general elections.

Dunlap, a Democrat, said July 15 that his office had determined that more than 11,000 signatures on the Republicans’ petition were invalid. That left the party short of the minimum number of 63,067 signatures needed to get the question on the ballot.

Dunlap declined to comment Monday.

Spaced out in every other voting booth, residents cast their ballots in the Kennebunk Town Hall auditorium in the July primary election. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Had Republicans prevailed, the pending referendum on the issue would have stayed the law until after the election.

Maine Republican Party Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas said in a statement that Dunlap’s office inappropriately rejected more than 2,000 signatures that would have made the petition valid.

“Much like when we cast a vote, each signature from a registered Maine voter deserves to be counted. It is shocking how many voters the Secretary of State chose to silence,” she said.

Kouzounas said the party’s appeal calls for a “swift reversal and reinstatement of the signatures that Secretary Dunlap wrongly disqualified. It is completely unacceptable that our Secretary of State would handle such an important process so poorly. As long as Maine voices are silenced, we will not stop fighting.”

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting 2020, which has also filed suit against Dunlap for granting the Republican Party a petition in the first place, has said it intends to intervene in the latest appeal.

“We have identified a number of areas where additional signatures should have been disqualified and we are eager for the opportunity to present that information to the courts and to the people of Maine,” said Cara Brown McCormick, the treasurer for the committee.

Opponents of ranked-choice voting have filed yet another suit in federal court in Bangor challenging the law’s constitutionality.

The law withstood a federal legal challenge in 2018 after Democrat Jared Golden unseated Republican Bruce Poliquin in the 2nd Congressional District. Poliquin won the initial vote but did not have a clear majority. A federal judge later denied his request for a new election, and Poliquin ultimately dropped his legal challenge.

The ranked-choice system 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.

Ranked-choice voting is also used in congressional races in Maine. Voters have twice supported the system, approving the initial law at the ballot box in 2016 and then voting to overturn a legislative repeal in 2018.

Maine is one of only two states to split its Electoral College votes by congressional district, and the ranked-choice system could threaten President Trump’s bid for a repeat win in Maine’s 2nd District. The winner of each district receives one electoral vote, and the overall state winner receives the remaining two votes.

There will be at least one third party presidential candidate on the ballot and two independents are trying to collect the 4,000 signatures needed to be added to the ballot in November. This could hurt Trump if he defeats presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the 2nd District, but gets less than 50 percent of the vote.

In 2016, President Trump won in the 2nd District by 10 points and was awarded one electoral vote while Democrat Hillary Clinton won the statewide race and the 1st District, giving her the remaining three electoral votes.

The $400,000 referendum campaign, a top priority of the Maine GOP, reflects Republican efforts nationally to oppose election laws they view as too liberal or unconstitutional. About $375,000 of that money was paid to out-of-state consultants who oversaw the paid signature-gathering process.

Maine remains the only state to have a statewide ranked-choice voting law, but dozens of U.S. cities use it, including Portland, according to FairVote, a Maryland-based nonprofit that advocates for election reform.

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