Good morning from Augusta. We’re set to learn more this week about how Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap plans to implement the state’s first-in-the-nation ranked-choice voting system for the crowded June primaries with a new set of rules to be released this week.
A people’s veto effort forced the state to adopt the new system in a compressed timeframe and the new rules are a key step toward it. After ranked-choice voting passed in 2016, it was found partially unconstitutional by Maine’s high court and the Legislature passed a law delaying it until 2021. But supporters of ranked-choice voting got enough signatures to force a June people’s veto vote on that law, so Maine will use ranked-choice voting in the June gubernatorial and congressional primaries as it votes on whether or not to save the system.
That people’s veto effort only became official earlier this month. Dunlap then set an end-of-March deadline to produce a set of state rules governing the new system, including how votes will be tabulated, what is expected from clerks and what a recount will look like.
One of the most uncertain elements is how much time it will take to declare a winner — and campaign finance watchdogs are already talking about that. Ranked-choice voting will be a large workflow change for clerks and the state. In ranked-choice races without an outright winner (here’s a primer on how the system works), tabulation will be finished centrally by Dunlap’s office after the Maine State Police gather ballot data from every city and town in Maine.
Dunlap has said it could be days or weeks before a winner in a competitive ranked-choice election is declared and some candidates have already gone to the Maine Ethics Commission, which regulates campaign financing, to see how they would pay to campaign during any delay or legal challenge.
The commission’s staff is proposing another set of rules that would allow candidates to keep using money raised for the primary in ranked-choice voting elections until the winner of a race is determined. Candidates running Clean Election bids in these races could raise private money to pay for recounts or challenges.
Dunlap may also need more money to do this under best practices, but the amount remains to be seen. His office has estimated the cost of a ranked-choice primary at $1.1 million. It could be lower. Lawmakers in both parties have hinted at agreement on funding the law per Dunlap’s eventual request, but it hasn’t come yet and the scheduled end of the legislative session is three weeks away. It’ll have to be settled soon.
Today in A-town
Legislative panels will take testimony on LePage administration bills today, including one decentralize services for children with disabilities. A bill backed by the Gov. Paul LePage’s administration would move special education services to children between ages 3 and 6 from the Maine Department of Education’s Child Development Services unit to local school districts will get a public hearing before the Legislature’s education committee.
The budget committee also meets today to take up one of LePage’s recently introduced bills, which would restore eight Department of Health and Human Services positions — mostly attorneys — cut as part of last year’s budget compromise.
- The perks of being a lawmaker in Maine are pretty generous. During their two-year terms, Maine legislators receive only a small salary, but they also get health insurance, retirement benefits, meal money, lodging money and other forms of compensation. The various forms of compensating Maine’s 186 elected legislators adds up to about $10.7 million every two years.
- Mainers took part in marches Saturday to protest gun violence. Events took place from Presque Isle to Portland — as well as in 700 places across the country — with young people playing leadership roles in many of them. “I refuse to normalize this,” co-organizer Hamda Ahmed, a University of Southern Maine student, said in Portland about school shootings.
- A scientist is calling for changes in Maine’s lobster industry to protect the endangered right whale. Maine Public reports that there were an estimated 450 North Atlantic right whales alive as of 2016, but only five calves were born and 17 deaths were caused by gear entanglement or ship strikes. A scientist told Maine lobstermen recently that they may have to modify or eliminate the rope they use to mark traps to ward off further federal regulation.
- The Legislature’s watchdog committee authorized investigations on Friday into Maine’s unemployment system and allocation of timber from state lands. It adds to a heavy workload for the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which is also investigating Maine’s child welfare system. The new probes are in response to allegations that the LePage administration mishandled the rollout of a new unemployment system and may have diverted timber away from millowners for political reasons. The state has denied wrongdoing.
Same name game
Soon after Brad Littlefield, a former Sanford city councilor, filed a challenge to state Sen. Eric Brakey’s petition for a spot on the Republican primary ballot to challenge U.S. Sen. Angus King, we received an email titled “Heads Up: Brent Not Brad” from Brent Littlefield, a political strategist for LePage and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.
“I just received an inquiry from a Maine reporter regarding the U.S. Senate race in Maine and a Littlefield,” he wrote. “PLEASE NOTE: That is BRAD Littlefield – not me.”
I can relate. I have a common name that I share with my father, a former Green Bay Packers receiver, a bad Dutch singer, a former Maine state fire marshal — constables used to try to deliver subpoenas for him to me — and, ugh, a serial murderer.
Before anyone gets any wrong ideas, it’s “Robert, Not Bobby Joe.” I don’t have a middle name. Here is my soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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.