Is this really how we want to do elections?

Well, the legal battles over ranked-choice voting have already gotten absurdly messy and confusing, and the system hasn’t even been used in an actual election yet.

Just wait until the loser ends up miraculously becoming a winner in an election. That should be fun.

In the last week a lot has happened, and to fully explain, I think we need to go back to the beginning.

In November 2016, voters in Maine narrowly approved a new system for elections known as ranked-choice voting by a margin of roughly 52 percent to 48 percent. This approval was fueled by nearly $3 million raised on behalf of the various campaigns supporting the measure, with no opposition campaign of note even opposing it.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting deliver people’s veto petitions at the State House on Feb. 2. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

It was also fueled by what I would consider intentional dishonesty — or at the very least willful ignorance — in the assurances made to the public that yes, in fact, the law as written was constitutional.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but no question that that sees one side overwhelming the other to that degree can be seriously argued to have a result that represents the true will of anyone, particularly since it still almost lost even with those absurd advantages.

No matter how informed and engaged the electorate is, that should be no one’s idea of a fairly contested election, nor its results indicative of anything.

In any event, after its “victory” at the ballot box, the chaos began.

The following February the Maine Senate sought an advisory opinion from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on the question of the measure’s constitutionality. In full disclosure, I filed an amicus brief arguing that it was unconstitutional.

In May, the court came back with their unanimous advisory opinion, stating that the new law would, in fact, be unconstitutional.

This being an advisory opinion, though, the issue then bounced to the Legislature. Lawmakers then passed “compromise” legislation that delayed the implementation of ranked-choice voting until 2021, giving time to proponents to attempt to pass a constitutional amendment that would make the law legal.

Rather than take the reasonable advice, proponents — once again fueled by their out-of-state special interest money — immediately engineered a people’s veto of the new law, seeking to eliminate it and restore their original law that was passed by referendum in 2016.

But who would vote for that? Restore a blatantly unconstitutional law?

Which is why they tried to make it a partial veto, taking out ranked-choice for state-level general elections, but leaving it in place for primaries. Primaries are technically internal party elections facilitated by the state, so ranked-choice could theoretically be used for that.

The veto that proponents engineered, though, blocks a specific amendment that was made to the 2017 law — the one that delayed implementation — and would cause the law to revert to prior statutes that clearly state that primaries will be decided by plurality.

In other words, they tried to be just a little too cute, and too clever, and ended up vetoing the wrong thing.

And that is how we got to where we are today.

It apparently took the attorney general’s office months to find this legal conflict, which is a shocking example of just how out of their element so many people in government are. How many other things are these people missing?

At the last minute, Matt Dunlap had to turn himself into the fall guy and tell the legislature he might not be able to do it in June.

Then comes the legal challenge that resulted Wednesday in a ruling by Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy that said, essentially, “just kidding, nothing to see here, you are going to have to run it in June anyway.”

But is that the end of it? Nope.

In her ruling, Murphy also pointed to a separate filing by the Maine Senate, and suggested that it raises significant constitutional issues deserving of expedited review.

So there are more decisions coming. And that won’t be the end of it. No matter what happens in June, there are going to be a lot of lawsuits filed.

This is an asinine way to conduct elections, and the ranked-choice voting advocates deserve your ire.

They almost certainly knew they needed to amend the Constitution to make this system legal in the first place, but they also knew that doing so would be virtually impossible. So, even knowing they would throw Maine’s electoral system into chaos, doubt and confusion, they charged ahead anyway.

Then, when the people who had to clean up their mess tried to deal with the mess they created, they attack and lambaste them as evil enemies of their righteous populism.

Do we really want to reward this? And is this really what we want our elections to look like?


Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.