AUGUSTA, Maine — A judge on Wednesday ordered Maine to allow voters to rank their candidate choices in its June primaries, even as she considers a request from the state Senate to block plans for the revamped voting method.
Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy acknowledged the new system raises "significant constitutional issues" but said so-called ranked-choice voting should remain law.
Murphy ruled the secretary of state's office must continue moving forward with implementing the voting method, which voters approved in a 2016 statewide referendum.
"To stop implementation now, 10 weeks prior to election day, could cause the irreparable harm of not being able to implement the will of the voters by the June 12, 2018 election day," Murphy wrote.
Voters in June will decide whether to use the system in future elections.
Proponents of ranked-choice voting, including eight Democratic gubernatorial candidates, asked Murphy to intervene after Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said a conflict between new and existing language in the state's election law could leave Maine's primaries open to legal challenges. Dunlap asked for legislative or legal guidance but added that he would continue implementing the overhaul despite the conflict.
Murphy also acknowledged that the Maine Senate has raised "significant constitutional issues" about Dunlap's plans for ranked-choice voting. The Senate went to court Wednesday to argue that Dunlap lacks the authority or necessary funds for his plans to roll out ranked-choice voting by June.
The Senate wants the court to prevent Dunlap from using public funds for the roll-out of ranked-choice voting without permission from lawmakers. Murphy and attorneys for Dunlap and the Maine Senate will discuss in coming days whether Maine's highest court should give the final answer on the matter.
Dunlap declined to comment but said legal counsel is reviewing the court's order and the Senate's filing.
Maine is set to become the first state to use the ranked voting method in a statewide primary. The system allows voters to rank their ballot choices for an office from first to last. There would be multiple rounds of tallies, if necessary, to ensure the winning candidate gets a majority vote.
State lawmakers last fall delayed ranked-choice voting until 2021, when it would be repealed unless a constitutional amendment allows it. More than 62,000 petitions were collected to temporarily halt the delay, pending a second statewide vote June 12.
If Mainers vote to veto the lawmaker's delay of ranked-choice voting in June, Maine would use ranked-choice voting for future primary elections and November federal elections. It wouldn't be used for legislative and gubernatorial general elections because of state constitutional concerns.