Maine Democrats split on value of ranked-choice voting lawsuit

Good morning from Augusta, where state, federal and local government offices are closed for Presidents Day. That means we won’t have much to share with you today.

But a lawsuit filed late Friday afternoon by the group pushing a ranked-choice voting system for Maine did generate some reverb during the weekend, partially confusion about why the lawsuit is necessary in the first place.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting don’t want to leave anything to chance. You might know the background by now but we’ll operate on the assumption you haven’t had to follow all the twists and turns this has taken. Ranked-choice voting was enacted by referendum in 2016 but pretty much stopped in its tracks by the Legislature last year, which enacted a bill to bar its implementation unless the Maine Constitution is amended to allow it by December of 2021. That triggered a people’s veto campaign which submitted more than 70,000 signatures early this month, which are still being certified by the Maine secretary of state’s office.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting on Friday filed a lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court, seeking  to force Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to implement ranked-choice voting for the June 12 primary elections. That means Dunlap would have to develop the vote-counting system by then and likely without an appropriation to hire additional staff. On Friday, Dunlap told the BDN that if the people’s veto is successful, ranked-choice voting will be in law and his office will implement it, which he said would make Friday’s lawsuit “moot.” He previously said that he would likely have to find more than $1 million to cover added costs associated with ranked-choice voting.

Some of the candidates in this year’s primary support the lawsuit, others don’t. The Democrats named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are 2nd Congressional District candidate Lucas St. Clair, gubernatorial candidates Jim Boyle, Mark Dion, Mark Eves, Sean Faircloth, Diane Russell and Betsy Sweet, and state Senate candidate Ben Chipman. Senate President Mike Thibodeau, who seeks the Republican nomination to run for governor and who is a leading opponent of ranked-choice voting, said he wanted to see the details of the suit before commenting about it.

Two candidates were explicit about why they don’t support the lawsuit. Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, who is a candidate in the Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District race against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, supported ranked-choice voting when the repeal bill went through the Legislature but said in a written statement Friday that he didn’t support the lawsuit because it could be seen as politically motivated and because we don’t know “whether such an action was necessary.”

One of the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates also made a point of saying he doesn’t support the lawsuit, despite his support for ranked-choice voting. Adam Cote, a veteran and attorney from Sanford, said in a written statement Friday that he’s not convinced Dunlap is not moving toward implementation. “I was not provided with any such evidence or given the opportunity to read the suit before being asked to put my name on it,” Cote said in a written statement.

Keep it tuned here for further developments in what could become one of the major political stories in the first half of 2018. Whichever way this goes, it promises to be a wild ride for both voters and candidates.

Mayhew gets a boost in Lincoln County

Former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew topped the Republican field Saturday in a straw poll conducted during a Lincoln County Republican caucus . According to the Lincoln County News, Mayhew received 68 votes, besting businessman Shawn Moody’s 35 votes. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, Senate President Mike Thibodeau and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason received five, three and zero votes, respectively. Saturday’s straw poll vote was not part of the official process of choosing the next governor but represents the first time likely primary voters have weighed in on this year’s contest.

Today in A-town

It’s a barren wasteland. State government and legislative committees are also closed until tomorrow.

Reading list

  • Jason Savage said he owns the Maine Examiner website. An attorney for Savage, who previously would not acknowledge his involvement with the site, told the Maine Ethics Commission last week that he is the owner and author of the site but that it is “not related” to his work as executive director of the Maine Republican Party. The ethics commission meets Thursday to discuss a campaign finance complaint filed by the Maine Democratic Party regarding the site. The Maine Examiner posted damaging emails about progressive Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin in the days before he lost a runoff to Republican Shane Bouchard.
  • A $950 million energy transmission line could come through Maine after all. The state of Massachusetts announced Friday that it will pursue a major contract with Central Maine Power to bring renewable energy from Quebec to the Bay State through Maine if regulators in New Hampshire don’t accept the project coming that way by March 27. New Hampshire’s Northern Pass project through the White Mountain National Forest was initially chosen from a number of bidders but New Hampshire denied the project a few days later.
  • Candidates for Congress are divided on whether they would accept donations from the National Rifle Association. The Republicans running for the U.S. House and Senate split with the rest of the field when the said they would take donations from the NRA, whose political contributions to elected officials are again under a microscope following another school shooting in Florida that claimed 17 lives last week.

Screaming at the Olympics

I don’t know if I’m in the minority or not on this but I’ve been watching a lot of Olympics events. Regardless of the the event, there’s just something I love about watching people win medals in activities that have consumed their lives.

But, I must say there are times I’m disappointed that the events are showing sometimes on only one or two channels.

“I wonder if there are more events streaming anywhere,” I asked out loud recently.

“You want to scream at the Olympics?” asked my 7-year-old.

“No, buddy,” I said with a chuckle. “I said stream, not scream.”

He was not embarrassed at all about his little gaffe.

“Well,” he said with a matter-of-fact shrug. “You scream at football games.”

Here’s my soundtrack. For the record, it’s also his mother’s soundtrack when the Pats are on. — Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.