Legislative and Legal History in Maine
With credit to Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd at the Bangor Daily News, here is our version of the timeline:
March, 2001: Ranked choice voting is introduced in the Maine State Legislature for the first time as LD 1714.
2003 - 2013: Bills for ranked choice voting are introduced in each new Legislature.
2008: League of Women Voters of Maine opens a League study on ranked choice voting, also called instant run-off voting.
June 3, 2009: The Maine Legislature kills a bill sponsored by then-Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, that would have established a ranked-choice voting pilot project in several Maine municipalities.
March 7, 2011: After a three-year study, the League of Women Voters issues a position statement endorsing ranked-choice voting in single-seat elections.
June 11, 2013: A bill to establish a ranked-choice voting system in state elections from then-Sen. Dick Woodbury, I-Yarmouth, fails after 90-57 and 20-13 votes against it in the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. Read "our testimony on LD 518."+files/LD_518_860_Ranked_Choice_Voting.pdf>
Summer 2013: The League of Women Voters of Maine convenes a working group on ranked choice voting with participants including legislators, lawyers, local and national advocates, and interested citizens.
February 2014: The League of Women Voters of Maine hosts a moot court on the constitutionality of ranked choice voting.
October 2015: Advocates led by Dick Woodbury, Diane Russell launch the petition drive to put a citizen initiated question on the ballot for ranked choice voting. They eventually form the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting.
January 2016: Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Attorney General Janet Mills, both Democrats, flag what they see as constitutional issues with a citizen-initiated proposal to implement ranked-choice voting.
November 2016: Following a citizen-initiated petition to put the question on the ballots, approximately 52 percent of Maine voters approve implementing ranked-choice voting for gubernatorial, congressional and legislative races. Read the League's media release.
February 2017: The Maine Senate votes 24-10 to ask the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to develop and issue an opinion on the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting.
May 2017: The Maine Supreme Judicial Court releases an advisory opinion that part of the ranked-choice voting law is unconstitutional because of a reference in the Maine Constitution referring to elections being won by pluralities, which means whoever receives the most votes. The 44-page decision was unanimous. Here is the League's brief. You can find all the court documents here at the web site of the State of Maine Judicial Branch.
Oct. 24, 2017: After months of debate about bills to repeal or continue ranked-choice voting that resulted in partisan gridlock, the Legislature enacts a bill that put off the implementation of ranked-choice voting until the Maine Constitution can be amended to accommodate it. The bill includes a provision that would nullify ranked-choice voting if that doesn't happen prior to December 2021.
November, 2017: The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting launches a people's veto campaign to repeal the bill that put off implementation of RCV. The League endorsed the people's veto campaign.
March 5, 2018: A people's veto petition seeking to nullify the Legislature's law to delay implementation is certified by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.That sets the stage for ranked-choice voting to be implemented in time for the June 12, 2018, primary election, but also sets up a referendum in that election to repeal the law passed by the Legislature in October 2017.
March 29, 2018: Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap drops a bombshell when he announces that a legislative committee analyst found a discrepancy in current Maine law that calls for a plurality to win in one place and a ranked-choice majority in another. Dunlap says that because of deadlines to print and deliver ballots, he will move forward with implementation.
April 2, 2018: Following a contentious debate, the Maine Senate votes to authorize Senate President Mike Thibodeau the temporary authority to intervene legally in current and future suits involving ranked-choice voting.
April 3, 2018: On behalf of the Senate, Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau files court papers requesting " expedited review by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court" of potential constitutional problems with the ranked-choice voting law before the June 12, 2018, elections.
April 4, 2018: Maine Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy issues a temporary injunction ordering Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to move ahead with implementation of ranked-choice voting for the June 12, 2018, elections. Proponents of the system and eight gubernatorial candidates had sought the ruling.
April 11, 2018: Maine Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy formally asks the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to rule on seven questions related to the Maine Senate's petition to the courts.
April 12, 2018: The Maine Supreme Judicial Court meets to hear new arguments on the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting. The League of Women Voters of Maine filed an amicus brief in that case.
April 17, 2018: The Court rules that "...ranked-choice voting is the law of Maine with regard to the primary elections on June 12, 2018,..." Read the final opinion.
May 4, 2018: The Maine GOP filed a last-minute federal lawsuit to prevent ranked choice voting from being used in the Republican primary elections on June 12, 2018. Here's the original GOP complaint. Read the League's statement on the lawsuit.
May 29, 2018: A federal judge denied the GOP request for an injunction blocking RCV in the GOP primaries. And here's the federal court ruling.
June 12, 2018: Maine used RCV in primary elections for the first time. The people's veto on RCV prevailed at the polls with about a 54% majority. This means that RCV will be used in the general elections for federal office beginning in November, 2018, and in primary elections for state and federal office going forward.
June 14, 2018: Primary election ballots begin arriving in Augusta from around the state for the first central RCV count in Maine. Contests to be decided by RCV include the Democratic nominates for governor and for U.S. Congress in the 2nd District.
June 20, 2018: The Secretary of State announced results in the two contests to be decided by RCV: the Democratic nominations for governor and for U.S. Congress in the 2nd District. Read the League's press release.
November 6, 2018: Maine was the first state in the country to use ranked choice voting in a federal election.
November 13, 2018; the Poliquin campaign had filed suit in federal court on November 13 challenging the use of RCV in his Congressional Election. Read the League's press release.
November 15, 2018 The Maine Secretary of State declared a winner in an historic election: the first congressional race in the nation to be decided by ranked choice voting.
December 13, 2018 U.S. District Judge Lance Walker issued his final judgement in the lawsuit brought by Bruce Poliquin's re-election campaign challenging the constitutionality of RCV in the November 2018 Congressional election. In his strongly-worded opinion), Judge Walker denied the Poliquin campaign's request for a permanent injunction against the use of RCV and found for the defendant, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. Jaren Golden was declaired the winner. Read the statement from LWVME on the court's rejection of the case. Later that month, Bruce Poliquin dropped his lawsuit, clearing the way for Jared Golden to be seated in Congress.
June 18, 2019 The legislature passed LD 1083 expanding the use of ranked choice voting to the selection of Maine’s presidential electors.
January 12, 2020 The RCV bill for presidential elections became law without the governor’s signature as P.L. 2019, ch. 539. Several legal actions ensued.
February 3, 2020 A group of RCV opponents led by the Maine GOP initiated a people's veto campaign, intending to suspend use of RCV in the November presidential election and force a public vote on the new law providing for the use of RCV in selecting presidential electors. On June 15, 2020, the completed people’s veto petition was submitted to the Secretary of State for approval.
July 15, 2020 The Secretary of State announced that the people’s veto petitions did not contain a sufficient number of valid signatures and rejected the petition. Legal wrangling continued on several fronts. Read our statement here.
July 27, 2020 The Maine Republican Party appealed the invalidation of people's veto petition signatures to Superior Court and sought to have the people’s veto reinstated.
August 24, 2020 Superior Court Justice Thomas McKeon issued a ruling on the RCV people’s veto petition lawsuit, agreeing with the Maine Republican Party and ordering the Secretary of State to place the people’s veto on the ballot and to suspend the use of RCV in the November 2020 presidential election in Maine. The State of Maine appealed.
September 22, 2020 The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling overturning a Superior Court decision that had allowed for the people's veto to appear on the November 3, 2020 ballot and that blocked the use of ranked choice voting for the presidential election. This decision of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court paved the way for RCV to be used in the vote for president in 2020 and removed the people’s veto from the ballot. The Maine Republican Party promptly requested a stay on this decision and is considering an immediate appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Their request for a stay was denied on October 1, 2020.
September 28, 2020 Maine begins to distribute ballots designed to use RCV in the presidential race and without including the people’s veto question.
The Maine State Law Library has compiled an excellent timeline tracing the recent history of ranked choice voting in Maine.