Ranked-choice voting Credit: George Danby

A group trying to force a new statewide vote on ranked-choice voting said it has collected enough signatures to force a people’s veto referendum in June.

The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting will submit signatures Friday to the Maine secretary of state in an effort to revive the voting system after the Legislature essentially blocked it last year.

The committee has been collecting signatures from registered voters all over Maine in an effort to let Maine voters decide on a people’s veto of a bill enacted last year that delays implementation of ranked-choice voting until the Maine Constitution is amended to resolve conflicts between the law approved by voters in November 2016 and constitutional wording. A provision in the Maine Constitution requires a plurality vote — which simply means a candidate wins by receiving more votes than anyone else — in general elections for state offices.

If that amendment isn’t in place by December 2021, the 2016 law would be automatically repealed as a result of the bill passed by legislators during an October 2017 special session.

But that law seems in imminent danger of being repealed.

The committee needs at least 61,123 valid signatures to block the 2017 law and put Maine on track to using ranked-choice voting for federal elections and primaries. If Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap deems that ranked-choice voting advocates collected enough signatures to place the people’s veto on the June 12 ballot, the 2017 law would be placed on hold.

Advocates for ranked-choice voting contend that the system would have to be used for the June primaries. But that’s likely to face further legal challenges.

In ranked-choice voting, voters choose multiple candidates in order of their preference, and the votes are re-tabulated based on second- and third-choice votes until a winner emerges with a majority of the votes.

The system created an impasse in the Legislature for most of 2017, with lawmakers rejecting bids to repeal the law or send a constitutional fix to referendum. The law enacted in October was seen as a compromise, though amending the Constitution starts with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, which given the current political climate and balance of power is not possible.

Ranked-choice voting advocates say they will submit signatures to the secretary of state’s office on Friday but didn’t respond to questions about how many signatures they have gathered. The secretary of state has 30 days after receiving the signatures to deem the effort successful or not.

The elections divisions is already in the process of certifying signatures for another citizen-initiated referendum to create new taxes on income above $127,200 a year to support in-home support services for elderly and disabled Mainers.

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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.