Ranked-choice voting is still alive in Maine, but it could be a short reprieve

One of the big issues the Legislature has left to contend with before adjourning this year is the state’s ranked-choice voting law, which was enacted by citizen petition and referendum in 2016.

After a Republican bid to kill a constitutional amendment allowing it failed on Thursday, that bill passed in the Maine Senate. But it was effectively a procedural move to send it to the House of Representatives. It still needs to win two-thirds approval in both chambers, which is virtually impossible amid Republican opposition.

The first-in-the-nation law was deemed unconstitutional in an advisory opinion by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. In a ranked-choice system, voters would choose multiple candidates and rank them in order of preference. A winner is declared if a majority picks a candidate as their first choice. But if not, the candidate with the lowest share of first-place votes is eliminated and second-place votes for that candidate are reallocated, a process that will be repeated until a majority is won.

After some wrangling and debate over the bill Wednesday, the Senate deadlocked 17-17 on Republicans’ bid to kill the call for a statewide vote to amend the Maine Constitution to allow ranked-choice voting. That proposal is sponsored by Sen. Catherine Breen, D-Falmouth. One Republican, Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, voted with Democrats to keep the proposal alive.

However, this is only a death row reprieve for the bill, which would also require a statewide ratification vote. The move sends it to the House for approval, but it doesn’t look like it will find the two-thirds of lawmakers that it needs on final enactment votes in both chambers.

The repeal bill is sponsored by Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, who followed the amendment action by tabling his proposal. Needing only majority support, that is the bill with far firmer legs under it at this point, especially since Gov. Paul LePage supports repeal.

Regardless of which proposal moves forward, Maine ultimately becoming the first state to adopt ranked-choice voting is questionable with little changing on Wednesday. Stay tuned. — Michael Shepherd with Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • U.S. House Democrats’ campaign arm is coming to Maine on a recruitment jaunt. Trying to boost morale after losing a special election in Georgia, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a memo obtained by The New York Times on Wednesday in which they make a case for Democrats’ 2018 chances. They also say they’ll soon be looking to “lock in top recruits, initiate conversations with prospective candidates, and further engage current candidates, local leaders and activists” ahead of 2018 and will travel to a group of states including Maine in the coming weeks. Maine’s 2nd District is a swing district on paper, but U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, is in his second term. The biggest-name potential Democrat publicly considering a run at him is two-time Maine Senate candidate Jonathan Fulford of Monroe. — Michael Shepherd
  • The bill to ban using your cellphone while driving is in funding never-never land. The bill, LD 1089, has been approved by both chambers of the Legislature, though not by enough to withstand a veto by LePage if that’s what he chooses to do. However, the bill may never make it to the governor’s desk following an action in the Senate on Wednesday evening that sends the bill to the Special Appropriations Table. That’s a bureaucratic term that means the bill, which has a cost of about $87,000 over the next two years and approximately $65,000 in subsequent years, needs to be funded in the biennial budget. There are well over 100 bills whose fates depend on funding this year and there’s far from enough money to pay for all the bills on the table. That could stop this bill in its tracks. Typically, which lingering bills to fund is a decision made in the final hours of each legislative session. We’ll keep track of it for you. Meanwhile, keep your eyes on the road. Here’s your soundtrack.Christopher Cousins
  • Sen. Angus King took to the Senate floor to look for the Republican health care bill on Wednesday. He didn’t find it. The independent who caucuses with Democrats (and dad humorist) got some internet attention yesterday after a brief gag on the Senate floor where he pretended to look for Senate Republicans’ proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, which has been a mostly well-guarded secret so far. It’s expected to be released on Thursday. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

Today’s House and Senate calendars are a study in contrasts. The Senate, which met into the evening on Wednesday finished nearly all of its work and has only a few honorary orders and nine items of unfinished business on it. The House, on the other hand, has considerably more work to do this morning, starting with a number of vetoes by Gov. Paul LePage.

One day after the Legislature’s statutory adjournment deadline — which both chambers voted Wednesday to extend by up to five days — there are still new bills coming into the process. One of those is LD 1642, which has to do with allowing a person or entity who manufactures liquor to also operate an establishment where that liquor can be consumed.

Other than that, there are several bills on the rest of the House calendar but the real workload will come from supplements, which will be generated later in the day. The bill train in Augusta is coasting to a halt. Here’s your soundtrack. Christopher Cousins

Reading list

The Senate microphone can’t take your order

With Wednesday’s session running well into dinnertime, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, joked into his live microphone, “It’s a medium pepperoni, extra cheese.”

That made me hungry while listening from the BDN’s State House office. Associated Press reporter Patrick Whittle linked to this Huffington Post piece saying you should never order extra cheese. I have no strong feelings.

When I got home, my girlfriend had ordered Domino’s. It wouldn’t be my first (or fifth) choice, but we’re at the end of the session and sacrifices must be made. (Remember that, budget negotiators.) Yes, I ate it. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

P.S. I told you to order a pizza for us but you didn’t, Mike. I went to bed hungry. Here’s your soundtrack.  — Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.