Maine set to become first state to use ranked voting for president after repeal effort fails

Ballots for Maine congressional election
Ballots are prepared to be tabulated for a congressional election in Maine in November 2018.
(Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

Maine voters are set to become the first group of voters in U.S. history to be able to use a ranked style of voting for president, following a ruling by the secretary of state Wednesday.

The state’s voters had approved a switch to ranked-choice voting with a statewide vote in 2016. A state law change later extended the voting system to presidential elections in Maine.

The Maine GOP gathered signatures to try to force a people’s veto vote on the law change. That would have kept ranked-choice voting off presidential ballots in the state this year, because voters would have had to decide first whether to retain the voting method.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said that the Republicans’ effort doesn’t have enough valid signatures to force that vote. Republicans submitted 72,512 signatures, but only 61,334 were valid — more than 1,600 short of the threshold, he said.


The Maine GOP vowed to challenge the ruling.

“Let me be clear. This fight is not over,” said Dr. Demi Kouzounas, Maine Republican Party chair. “It is abundantly clear that the secretary of state used every trick in the book to throw out enough signatures through a litany of technicalities to keep this question off the ballot.”

Early voting is good for democracy, but it should be combined with ranked choice balloting so no vote gets wasted.

President Trump’s campaign also weighed in. “The secretary of state does not have the right to silence voters and we will not let this stand,” said Justin Clark, senior political advisor and senior counsel.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates when there are more than two in a race. It comes into play if no candidate cracks 50% of the first-place vote. That triggers another round of voting in which bottom finishers are eliminated, and those voters’ second choices are reallocated to the remaining field.

The use of ranked-choice voting in Maine could affect the outcome of a tight presidential election. Maine has four electoral votes. It’s also one of two states to apportion individual electoral votes to the winners of its congressional districts. The other is Nebraska.

The 2nd Congressional District is expected to be especially close. Trump won the district in 2016. Hillary Clinton won the rest of the state’s electoral votes.

Maine also uses ranked-choice voting for House of Representatives and Senate races. Tabulations are expected this week to determine the winner of the state’s Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District.