State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Category: Maine

Ranked Choice Voting in Maine

By: Emily Wagman

On October 19, 2015, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting delivered 70,000 signatures to Maine’s Secretary of State. While the signatures still must be verified, it is likely that the proposal will make it onto the 2016 ballot. Ranked choice voting is also referred to as instant runoff voting, which allows voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. If a voter’s first choice does not win, the voter’s vote moves to his/her second choice candidate. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting has support from all sides of the political spectrum. Voters in Maine are especially concerned with the idea of majority rule since the current Governor, Paul LePage, won his first term with only 38% of the vote, which is not exactly a ringing majority endorsement. Moreover, voters are also concerned with the issue of spoiler candidates. The most recent gubernatorial election saw a three-way race between LePage (R), Mike Michaud (D), and Eliot Cutler (I). The results of that election show that Cutler was a spoiler candidate – LePage received 48.2% of the vote, Michaud received 43.4% of the vote, and Cutler received 8.4% of the vote. Had the votes Cutler received gone to Michaud, LePage would have been unseated.

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A redistricting light through the (pine) trees

by Rachel Provencher

As the weather cooled and the leaves started to color in Maine last fall, the state legislature was heating up in debate over the Republican and Democratic proposals to redraw the Pine Tree State’s district lines.

Democrats and Republicans worked hard in the summer and fall of 2011 to resolve different redistricting plans for the state of Maine.

The redistricting battle between Republicans and Democrats was likely the result of close congressional races in 2010, when both districts fell to Democrats. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), who beat Republican challenger Dean Scontras by a 57-43 margin, holds Maine’s 1st district, and Representative Michael Michaud won by a 55-45 margin to take Maine’s 2nd district. In 2011, when Democrats and Republicans both proposed redistricting maps, the two plans showed significant differences. The Democratic plan presented little change to the existing map, while the Republican plan proposed shifting approximately 360,000 Mainers—one quarter of the state’s voters—between the two districts. The Republican plan also relocated Pingree’s hometown of North Haven into the middle of the 2nd district. Continue reading

All states (IRV): The courts got it right: recognizing that instant runoff voting makes every vote count

by: Guest Contributor Elise Helgesen


This November, Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), also called ranked choice voting, will be used for fiercely contested elections for mayor in San Francisco (CA), Portland (ME), and Telluride (CO) as well as for city council elections in St. Paul (MN) and Takoma Park (MD). IRV is also used abroad: Ireland will elect its president with IRV this month, and London will use IRV for mayoral elections in 2012. As recommended by Robert’s Rules of Order, more than 50 American colleges and universities now elect their student leaders with IRV.

With IRV, voters get one vote and one ballot, but get to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins with a first-choice majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their supporters’ second choices are added to the totals of the remaining candidates in an “instant runoff.” The process of elimination and redistribution continues until one candidate has a majority. Continue reading

Portland’s Instant-Runoff Mayoral Election: Innovative Voting, Constitutional Questions

by Ryan Shallard

On November 8, 2011, Portland, Maine residents will vote for mayor for the first time in nearly a century. For the past 88 years, Portland’s city councilors annually appointed the mayor. However, last year Portland residents voted to popularly elect the mayor. The impetus behind the change is the hope that an elected mayor will carry more political clout in Augusta, the State Capitol. This sudden creation of a very powerful political figure is drawing lots of attention from academics assessing the potential political impacts.

However, the election changes more than just Maine’s political balance and who chooses the mayor. It also establishes a controversial voting procedure for how the mayor is chosen. The 2011 mayor race will use instant-runoff voting (IRV), which encompasses voters’ preferential choices. Here’s how IRV works: each voter votes for as many candidates as he wants, ranking them from his first to last preference. The instant runoff ballot might look like this. Once the votes are collected, voters’ first choices are tallied. If any candidate carries more than 50% of the vote, then that candidate wins. However, given that there are 16 candidates in Portland’s mayoral race, it is extremely unlikely that one candidate will carry the necessary 50% of the vote. If no candidate has more than 50% of the vote, then the candidate receiving the lowest number of first place votes is eliminated, and his votes are redistributed to the candidates his voters ranked as their second choice. This process is repeated from the bottom up until one candidate carries the necessary majority.

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Maine-iacs Mobilized: New Voter Registration Laws in Maine

After thirty-eight years, a sleeping (political) giant is now awake in the Pine Tree State. In June of 2011, the Maine State Legislature repealed the long-standing law permitting Mainers to register to vote on the same day as elections, and replaced it with a new law prohibiting same-day voter registration.

Pursuant to LD 1376, Maine now requires that all in-person registrations occur no later than the third business day prior to the election date. Maine’s departure from being one of the country’s eight states to offer same-day voter registration was not a landslide victory. In the House, seventy-two representatives voted in favor, while sixty-five were opposed and thirteen representatives were absent, and the Senate showed a similar divide with seventeen votes in favor, fourteen against, and four excused. The close divide in both the House and Senate illustrates the partisan divide over same-day registration which was ultimately passed under Maine’s Republican majority. Reportedly, only one House Republican and two Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to oppose the legislation. Continue reading

College students and voter fraud: Charlie Webster’s Maine problem

Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster is “on a mission to make Maine a better place.” The trouble is, the “better place” he envisions lies on the other side of what may be an insurmountable controversy.

Since famously brandishing a list of 206 alleged voter frauds—all college students—a few weeks ago, Webster has been branded the leader of a witch hunt. The chairman maintains that Maine law is very clear that residency must be established before voting. This is true, but Webster’s opponents on this issue are quick to point out that doing so is almost trivially easy, and certainly not beyond students’ ability. Webster insists on implementing several harsher residency requirements, such as paying income taxes. Continue reading

Weekly Wrap-Up

Did Michelle Obama violate Illinois state election law? After Michelle Obama turned in her early voting ballot yesterday, she stopped outside the voting booth to take pictures with people in the area, including an electrician, Dennis Campbell. According to Campbell and a reporter who was nearby, Michelle stated that it was very important that he vote “to help keep her husband’s agenda going.” Illinois state law (Sec. 17-29 (a)) states that “No judge of election, pollwatcher, or other person shall, at any primary or election, do any electioneering or soliciting of votes or engage in any political discussion within any polling place, within 100 feet of any polling place.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs responded to the accusation by stating that “I don’t think it would be much to imagine, the First Lady might support her husband’s agenda.”

Charges were filed against a Maryland man, Jerry Mathis, for distributing an official-looking sample ballot that turned out to be fake.  The false ballots alarmed several candidates when they saw that the wrong matchups were checked.  Under Maryland law, Mr. Mathis could be facing a maximum of one year in jail and a $25,000 fine. Continue reading

Weekly Wrap Up

Due to a loophole in Florida election law, a violation can go without any punishment. On September 30, a Florida District Court of Appeals ruled that because the statute allowed candidates to opt for an administrative hearing regarding their violations but didn’t give those courts the power to levy sanctions, candidates could violate election law and not be penalized. This was caused by a “glitch” in the legislation and was not intentional. Florida Election Commission Chairman says that it won’t affect the cases for this year’s elections because the legislature will have an opportunity to fix it before they’re heard.

According to the 9th Circuit, Washington doesn’t discriminate against minorities in prison. The Court ruled on October 7 that the Washington felon disenfranchisement law, which prohibits incarcerated felons from voting, does not constitute discrimination despite disproportionately affecting minorities. In January, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit held 2-1 that incarcerated felons should be allowed to vote. Sitting en banc to reconsider the decision, the Court unanimously upheld the law. The Court ruled that the felons must show “intentional discrimination” on the part of the state and not merely that the law does discriminate, something the prisoners failed to do in this case. Continue reading

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the People’s Veto

dr_strangelove_1ed07Like many other states, Maine allows for citizen initiatives, the process by which individual citizens and nongovernmental organizations directly propose legislation.  Also like many other states, Maine’s initiative process attracts more than its fair share of bizarre characters and proposals, including this referendum to end the fluoridation of Maine’s drinking water.  Considering the most famous attempt to end the fluoridation of drinking water ended in a nuclear war, I suppose that the initiative process is a vast improvement.

However, the occasional strange referendum isn’t the only thing that makes Maine’s initiative process interesting. In addition to allowing conventional initiatives, Maine also gives its citizens a “People’s Veto”, through which the voters can veto laws passed by the state legislature.  The right to a People’s Veto is enshrined in Article IV, Section 17 of Maine’s Constitution, which also outlines the process by which a veto can appear on the ballot.  Continue reading

Online Voter Registration: A Small Step in the Right Direction

Lawmakers in the Michigan House recently passed HB 4539 and 4540, which together lay out the principles to allow for the electronic submission of voter registration applications. The change would allow for citizens with access to the Internet to register online by filling out a form similar to the paper form, and signing computerelectronically. The form is then automatically printed at the local clerk’s office. Arizona was the first to implement online voter registration in 2003, followed by Washington in 2008, with six other states following last year.  Other states have proposed similar legislation, and online registration continues to grow in popularity.  In Arizona, 25% of all new voter registrations took place online in its first year and within a few years that number reached 70%. Michigan is expected to see similar numbers. The bills are currently headed to the Senate for further review.

This new legislation has several clear aims. The costs associated with online registrations are significantly lower than paper forms. Arizona spends nearly 83 cents processing each paper voter registration form while their online voter registrations may be completed with a cost of only 3 cents. Postage for delivery and receipt is not necessary with online registration because the form is immediately and automatically printed off at the clerk’s office after the registrant submits online. The registrant then has the option to print off a copy on their printer for personal records. This process would also cut down the amount of information that needs to be manually entered from paper forms, which would help prevent errors.  Michigan in particular experienced difficulties with third-party form falsification last fall with groups like ACORN. Michigan hopes to eliminate such risks  by taking the registration forms out of those group’s hands and giving voters this simple and streamlined way of registering.

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