View on the ranked choice voting initiative

Citizens’ referendum

In November of 2016, by a vote of 388,273 to 356,621 (52% to 48%), Maine passed a Citizen’s initiative, which established ranked choice voting for state and federal offices in order to assure that future elections were won by a majority of votes rather than a plurality. The ballot question read as follows:

Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?

Supreme Court opinion on Constitutionality

On May 23, 2017, Maine’s Supreme Court advised the legislature in a unanimous opinion that the provisions of the initiated bill related to elections to state office were unconstitutional because the state constitution awards election to candidates who receive a plurality of votes.

Legislative effort to amend Constitution

In response to the Law Court’s opinion, the legislature debated a Resolution which would have sent a question to referendum amending the Constitution to allow ranked choice voting in state elections.

On June 23rd, with a vote of 78-68, this Resolution failed to receive the necessary two-thirds threshold for passage in the House. I voted with the majority in support of the Resolution because I thought that best represented the interests of the voters.

Legislative efforts to amend statute to resolve constitutional problems

Following the failure of the constitutional resolution, on Monday, October. 23, the legislature reconvened in special session to act on LD 1646, An Act To Bring Maine’s Ranked-choice Voting Law into Constitutional Compliance, a bill drafted to amend the statute to remove the constitutional problems of the citizens’ initiative.

This bill sought to amend the ranked-choice voting law by applying the provisions of the law only to primary elections (for both state and federal offices) and to general elections for federal offices. The bill would not allow ranked-choice voting to be used for general elections for state offices unless an amendment to the Constitution of Maine that authorizes the Legislature, by proper enactment, to determine the method by which the Governor and members of the State Senate and House of Representatives are elected is ratified. The bill also required the Secretary of State to adopt routine technical rules for the administration of ranked-choice voting, including the administration of recounts.

In the House, in a vote of 74-64 , I voted with the majority to pass this bill with an amendment to include funding for implementation in order to preserve the constitutionally permitted portions of ranked choice voting.

The bill then went to the Senate where, in a vote of 19-16, the Senate voted instead to return the bill to the House with an amendment which delayed the implementation of ranked choice voting until after December 2021. This amendment repealed ranked choice voting after that date unless the state Constitution is amended.

Back in the House, the Republican floor leader moved that the House ‘Recede and Concur’ with the Senate to delay implementation of ranked choice voting and repeal it unless the Constitution were amended.  In a vote of 61-77, I voted with the majority in opposition to delay and repeal.

After that motion failed, the bill’s sponsor moved that the House ‘Insist’ on the bill without the Senate’s amendment to delay and repeal which would have sent the bill back to the Senate in non-concurrence. I voted with the 59-79 minority in favor of the motion to insist because I believed that the unamended bill best represented the will of the voters to implement ranked choice voting directly to the greatest extent that the Constitution allows.

After the failure of that motion, as the bill remained in non-concurrence with the Senate, the Democratic floor leader moved that the House ‘Recede’ to clear the way to consider an alternate compromise amendment which would have preserved rank choice voting for primaries and federal offices without the contingency of the passage of a constitutional amendment and which delayed implementation for one year. I voted with the 53-85 minority in favor of that motion because I considered that compromise at that point to be the best prospect for the bill’s passage.

After the failure of that motion, the Republican floor leader again moved that the House ‘Recede and Concur’ with the Senate amendment to delay and repeal. I voted in the 73-65 minority against that motion because I still hoped that a compromise which preserved at least portions of ranked choice voting might be reached in the Senate if the bill were returned in non-concurrence.

Once the House concurred with the Senate amendment to delay implementation for two years, failure to enact would leave the citizen-initiated law in place in conflict with the Constitution. That would risk a constitutional crisis that would almost certainly follow with a court challenge over a state election in which a candidate received a plurality but not a majority of the vote.

So, to avoid triggering a constitutional crisis over the next statewide election for governor, on final enactment I voted with the 68-63 majority in favor the amended bill because, despite the contingent prospects for repeal, the amended bill at least eliminates the constitutional problems and allows for the possibility of a constitutional amendment going forward.

The alternative, the legislature’s failure to enact anything at all, which would leave in place the constitutional flaws of the initiated bill potentially throwing future state elections into chaos , I believe would be both irresponsible and a violation of my oath of office.

4 thoughts on “View on the ranked choice voting initiative”

  1. Thanks for explaining this Brian. I’m not happy with the outcome but I expect we haven’t seen the last of it.

  2. Thank you, Brian. I appreciate your thorough explanation and your forward-thinking reasons for voting the way you did. Please continue to push for ways to make RCV work in Maine. I believe in RCV and think this is the best way to ensure the election of a candidate who best represents the majority of our population. I also believe that RCV will allow for a more diverse group of candidates, opening the door to more spirited debate that will better educate voters on the choices available.

  3. Dear Mr. Hubbell,
    Thanks for the update. Do you best. I
    voted for you and you appear to represent my best
    I voted for the RANKED CHOICE VOTING
    INITIATIVE. I was surprised by the issues that
    arose concerning Constitutionality and the various
    “compromises” . I would like to see some form
    of this RANKED CHOICE VOTING instituted. But, would
    not want it watered down too much. It would be
    a long term goal to have an improved voting system
    in Maine and the whole of the USA.
    Do you best, use you best judgment.
    I also support Sunday or weekend voting
    and any move that would improve voter turnout/participation. Also a fairer system of
    allocation of voters, e.g. less gerrymandering.
    If there is a way to move forward to
    amend the Maine Constitution, etc. I would like to
    see some movement in that direction.
    Thanks again.

  4. Representative Hubbell:
    I fully support your votes on these parlimentary maneuvers. I am a committed supporter of the RCV initiative and believe that the reasons offered for your votes made complete sense.
    It is a shame that the legislature screwed this plan that voters fully supported. RCV is unlikely to go away, but we need different leadership in the governor’s chair, as well as in the Senate and House to get this recognized as a valuable change in the election system.

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