Above is a sample of the Republican gubernatorial ballot. Credit: Courtesy photo

Delegates at the Republican State Convention voted Friday morning that the party wants to nominate candidates by plurality instead of ranked-choice voting, which preceded the filing of a federal lawsuit in federal court.

The convention adopted a new rule calling for members of Congress, the governor and legislators to be nominated as they have been in the past: by an election in which the candidate who receives the most votes wins the nomination. The rule was enacted Friday morning unanimously and without debate and was followed closely by the filing of the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

Jason Savage, the party’s executive director, argued that the First Amendment protects the GOP’s right “to select our nominees the way we choose, and that will be the traditional method.”

“We hope the court will expedite our request and act quickly to protect our rights to select our nominee the way we choose,” Savage said.

Kyle Bailey, a leader of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, called Friday’s suit a “last-ditch” attempt by opponents to confuse voters.

“These actions are undermining our election laws,” Bailey said. “Opponents just don’t like it and to do this is abhorrent.”

Bailey said the committee’s attorneys were studying the suit’s legal standing.

Joshua Dunlap, an attorney for the Maine Republican Party, said the suit against Secretary of State Matt Dunlap for the first time the question of whether Maine’s ranked-choice voting system, which was enacted by citizen-initiated referendum in 2016, is allowable under the U.S. Constitution.

Joshua Dunlap said the suit seeks to allow Republicans to use plurality voting but does not seek any change for Democratic primary candidates.

Ballots for the primary have already been designed and are on their way to being printed. Joshua Dunlap said those ballots can still be used but that the party is asking that only the first choices be counted. The lawsuit affects the GOP gubernatorial race and one legislative race.

Demi Kouzounas, chairwoman of the Maine Republican Party, announced the suit to the convention delegates late Friday morning, which triggered a standing ovation.

“We don’t want our party’s elections to be a test lab for another experiment by out-of-state progressive groups,” Kouzounas said.

In a prepared statement, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett called the suit “just another attempt to chip away at RCV.”

A decision from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court last month cleared the way for state election officials to implement the system for gubernatorial and congressional primaries. Joshua Dunlap said that ruling addressed different issues than the GOP’s focus, which he said is based on language in the U.S. Constitution, not the Maine Constitution. He expected the court to take up the case or perhaps rule on it on an expedited basis, possibly within two weeks.

Ranked-choice voting has been at the center of controversy since voters narrowly approved the system in November 2016. Implementation lurched into limbo after the law court advised that the system was partially unconstitutional as it pertains to general elections in state races. Primaries and congressional elections weren’t addressed in that advisory opinion.

The Maine Legislature passed a bill in October that could delay ranked-choice voting until 2021, but the system will be used in the primaries because supporters launched a people’s veto drive to nix that law. Voters will also decide on the people’s veto in the June election.

In a unanimous decision, the high court ruled that ranked-choice voting “is the law of Maine” for the June primaries, throwing out the Republican-led Maine Senate’s questions about whether Dunlap can spend unallocated money on administering the system and hiring private couriers to transport ballots to Augusta for counting — both parts of his plan to implement the law.

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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.