Maine’s elections czar is still refining how ranked-choice voting will work

Good morning from Augusta, where preparations for using ranked-choice voting a month from now are coming together, according to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office.

That’s despite continued resistance from opponents such as the Maine Republican Party, whose state convention delegates voted to sue in federal court last week for the right to use traditional plurality voting for Republican primary contests. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for May 23 — just three weeks before the election.

A ballot courier has been hired. Dunlap won’t comment about the latest legal challenge but is proceeding with preparations. According to spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski, the department finalized a $30,875 contract with General Courier of South Portland to bring ballots and voting machine memory devices to Augusta for ranked-choice tallying in the likely event that a candidate in one of the four affected elections doesn’t receive more than 50 percent of the first-round votes.

The scene is set. The state will add to a contract it already holds with a firm called ES&S for the leasing of a high-speed tabulation machine capable of counting ranked-choice ballots. The centralized counting location will be the Elkins Building at 19 Elkins Lane in Augusta. Muszynski said the building’s security is being beefed up in advance of the election.

The department is close to issuing final rules about how the elections will work. Muszynski said some changes have been made to draft rules that were proposed in late March. A range of entities submitted 45 pages of suggestions for amendments. The national Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center suggested a security measure called “hash codes” for memory devices, offered counting assistance and suggested that the state issue tallying updates periodically instead of all at once when counting is complete. The League of Women Voters of Maine suggested various ways to speed the counting process and also urged periodic updates.

Many of your questions are answered online, and if that bores you there’s a cartoon coming. The secretary of state’s ranked-choice voting website has frequently asked questions, instructions about how to mark ballots, samples of the ranked-choice ballots in the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries, the Democratic 2nd Congressional District primary and the Republican primary in the Turner-area Maine House District 75 race. Muszynski said an animated ranked-choice explainer is coming soon, which we’re particularly interested to see and compare to our favorite Ren & Stimpy clips.

A road show starts Monday. The locations are Monday at the McArthur Public Library in Biddeford; Tuesday at the Bangor Public Library; Monday, May 21 at the Turner Memorial Public Library in Presque Isle; and Tuesday, May 29 at the Lewiston Public Library. All sessions begin at 4 p.m. If soaking in this info in your jammies is more your speed, Dunlap will hold a Facebook Live Q&A at 6 p.m. May 24 on the department’s Facebook page.

The Daily Brief is also offering its assistance in the counting, but we may not be the best choice. This is how we count.

PACs form to boost Mayhew, Hayes in Blaine House bids

A major Republican donor has formed an outside group to boost Mary Mayhew and a big-name spokeswoman is working on it. That group, Moose Tracks, has been around since January. It was founded by Paul Coulombe of Southport, a liquor magnate and frequent Republican donor. He gave $50,000 to it as of late April. Its purpose is to back Mayhew, the former Maine health and human services commissioner in the Republican governor’s race.

He hired Gail Gitcho, an operative from Massachusetts who has worked for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee. She said the group is raising more to “promote the results that Mary Mayhew has already achieved for Maine.”

Independent State Treasurer Terry Hayes will also be boosted by an outside group, but Mayhew may need more help quicker. More Voice for Maine formed in April to back Hayes. It had no money as of that point, but it is run by Justin Schair, a businessman who held top positions on independent Eliot Cutler’s 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial campaigns.

As a Clean Election candidate, Hayes is likely to be well-funded. She’ll get $600,000 in taxpayer money after the primary. By late April, Mayhew raised $300,000 with just $84,000 left — third in her four-way June primary field. That isn’t enough for a lot of TV ad time and Coulombe’s boost may get her significantly more.

Libertarians flock to Bangor

Convention fun isn’t reserved just for Republicans, Democrats and Green Independents. The Maine Libertarian Party, which gained party status in Maine in 2017, will hold its convention at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Bangor Arts Exchange at 187 Exchange St. in Bangor.

Scheduled speakers include Maine House candidates Cody Blackburn and Bonnie Young, New Hampshire 2nd District U.S. House candidate Justin O’Donnell, and Dean Staples, Maine’s at-large representative to the national party.

Per Maine law, conventions are a requirement to retain recognized political party status. Delegates might also have to elect an executive committee chair and vice chair, as both positions are listed as vacant on the party’s website. Purchase tickets by clicking here.

Today in A-town

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety is in today for a confirmation hearing with Gov. Paul LePage’s nomination to lead the Maine State Police. Lt. Col. John Cote will be interviewed by the committee beginning at 1 p.m. LePage nominated Cote, who has 29 years experience with the Maine State Police, in April. If confirmed by the Senate, Cote will replace Col. Robert Williams, who retired earlier this year to lead security at Colby College in Waterville.

Reading list

Who donated their legislative hat?

I went to Bangor this week to grab dinner and beers with my brother, Sam, a reporter for the Mount Desert Islander. Since I was detained for a bit in Augusta, he killed some time by heading over to Goodwill and he was proud to show me his find.

He picked up a mint-condition, snapback hat that read “124th Maine Legislature” with the state seal on it. They’re standard issue for lawmakers. I don’t know how much taxpayers paid for it, but he paid $2. The government subsidy worked out well for my family.

Write us if it was your hat. Here’s something to read about a hat owned by an actor with a homophonous name. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and 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.

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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.