By Scott Thistle
The Maine Legislature is again wrestling with how to implement, delay or repeal a law passed by voters last November that made Maine the first in the nation to approve a statewide ranked choice voting system for the Legislature, the governor's office and members of Congress.
The law would first be implemented for the June 2018 primary election. But last May the state's Supreme Judicial Court issued an advisory opinion to the state Senate saying that if ranked choice voting were used in the general election for governor or members of the Legislature, the results could be challenged in the courts because the system violates the Maine constitution.
On Monday, the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee was taking public testimony on a bill that would implement the parts of the law that did not raise constitutional concerns, while delaying the other portions of the law until voters could be asked to amend the constitution.
The hearing attracted a large turnout, included advocates for the new bill, leaders of the campaign that put the ranked choice system on the ballot, state lawmakers and a number of citizens.
Former state Sen. Dick Woodbury, a Falmouth independent, urged the committee to adopt the new bill in order to protect the constitutional portions of the ballot measure that voters endorsed.
Woodbury pointed out that the ballot measure received the second largest number of votes of any statewide ballot measure during an election that saw a 73 percent voter turnout -- the largest in Maine history.
He said those backing the measure were largely Maine people and not "monied interests" from outside of the state.
"This was the most respectful, deliberative and pure exercise of American democracy that I have ever seen," Woodbury said of the November 2016 vote.
Opponents of the shift say implementing parts of the law would be costly and confusing to voters. Lawmakers were unable to agree on amending the law during their past law-making session, which ended in August. But they are expected to try again during an upcoming special legislative session on Oct. 23.
(c)2017 the Portland Press Herald