Critics of ranked-choice voting like to say the election tabulation system is too complicated, but they are wrong. It’s really very simple.
Voters want to participate in multi-candidate elections without spending more time figuring who was the lesser of two evils than who would do the best job.
They brought their complaints to the Legislature, but most lawmakers were not interested in reforming a system that had put them in office. So last year, a group of concerned citizens went straight to the voters and asked them if they wanted an instant-runoff system that would let them keep some influence over an election’s outcome even if their top choice isn’t one of the most popular.
The majority said “yes” and the law was enacted. What could be more simple than that?
That’s where the Legislature comes in. Instead of doing what needed to be done to put the new system in effect, opponents of the referendum are still trying to make sure that the people won’t get to use the voting system a majority wants.
Lawmakers gathered in Augusta this week to clarify the status of the new voting system six months before its first test, the June primary. But instead the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee has muddied the waters. Options discussed range from enshrining the system in the state constitution to repealing it outright, and there’s no clear favorite. If lawmakers can’t agree on anything, the law would stay on the books, but without the money and regulatory changes needed to ensure a smooth transition.
It didn’t have to be so confusing.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an advisory opinion in May that found that the system does not conform with the state constitution’s requirement that elections for governor and Legislature are to be decided by a “plurality.” Elections for federal offices and primaries do not have the plurality requirement, so they are not affected by the court’s opinion.
If members of the Legislature wanted to carry out the will of the voters, they would have started a process to amend the constitution. At the very least, they would amend the law to preserve the parts that don’t cause constitutional concern, and give the state’s election officials the money and authority they need to get a new system running smoothly by Election Day in June.
Instead, members on the losing side of the referendum have used the court’s ruling as an excuse for the minority to overrule the majority. And because Gov. LePage is one of the people who wants ranked-choice voting off the books, expect a fight.
It would take two-thirds support by both houses of the Legislature to send a constitutional amendment to the voters that would fix the court’s concerns. If lawmakers could agree on a compromise, such as keeping ranked-choice voting in place for primaries and elections for federal offices, LePage would likely veto it, and it would take two-thirds support to override him.
It would only take a majority to send a repeal bill to LePage, which is probably the only thing he would sign. But if the law is repealed, the same groups that gathered signatures to put ranked-choice voting on the November ballot last year could put a people’s veto on the June ballot next year.
That would keep ranked-choice voting in place through the primary, where voters would be deciding if they wanted to keep ranked-choice voting at the same time that they are ranking candidates.
What a mess. It would be much simpler if lawmakers would just listen to the people and give them the electoral system they voted for.
The above is reprinted from the Portland Press Herald.