A judge in Maine on April 4th has ruled that ranked-choice voting must be used in the state’s upcoming June 12th primaries. The decision was ruled by Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy.
In her 14-page opinion siding with ranked choice voting advocates from The Committee for Ranked Choice in a lawsuit against current Democratic Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, Murphy ruled that halting the implementation of the voting allocation system before the summer primaries would cause “irreparable” harm to public confidence in the state’s election system. After the ruling, Dunlap said that his office is working on the law’s implementation before the June 12th primaries while seeking guidance and assistance from the Legislature and the state as well as federal courts.
While voters will be using ranked choice voting in the June 12th primaries for state legislature, state executive, and congressional races, they will also be voting on whether to repeal or keep Maine Question 5 for all future elections. The ballot initiative, which established ranked-choice voting, was passed in a November 2016 statewide referendum with 52% voting in favor and 47% voting in opposition.
Before the battle over ranked choice voting, Maine used winner-take-all plurality voting in which whoever gets the most votes as a ballot qualified or write-in candidate wins the general election or the primary election. According to FairVote, a non-partisan, no-ideological electoral reform advocacy group based in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Takoma Park, Maryland, ranked-voting or instant runoff voting is a method of voting where voters numerically rank their candidates, ballot qualified or write-in, in order of their preference. Their own first choice is automatically counted for. However, if the first selection does not make it to the next round, other selections are also counted instantly until there is a clear winner with a majority of the vote. FairVote argues that this method can expand choices for voters instead of deciding on only one candidate to choose from and prevent third parties or nonpartisan independents from spoiling the chances of strong mainstream major party candidates. Cities such as Minneapolis, Berkley, San Francisco, and Oakland use this system in all of their local elections.
Judge Murphy is a graduate of University of California at Berkeley and University of Maine School of Law who was a partner at Jabar, Batten Ringer and Murphy law firm in Waterville, Maine. She was appointed as a state judge by former Democratic governor John Baldacci in 2007 and reappointed by current Republican governor Paul LePage. Her term as a state judge ends in 2022. Before her career in state law, she was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010 to replace David Brock Hornby, a George H.W. Bush judicial appointee, on the federal District Court for the District of Maine. However, she withdrew name from the nomination process due to health and family reasons.
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