Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for the Yes on One campaign for ranked choice voting, said he was feeling optimistic just after the polls closed on Tuesday night in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Maine voters again endorsed ranked-choice voting, passing a ballot question that keeps alive the first-in-the-nation election system.

The Bangor Daily News and Decision Desk HQ called the race just after midnight Tuesday. With a majority of key precincts reporting, the “yes” vote held a solid lead with 55 percent of the total vote.

Ranked-choice voting has been on a roller coaster ever since being enacted by referendum in November 2016. Opposition was fueled in May 2017 when an advisory opinion from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court said the system was partially unconstitutional because of language in the Maine Constitution that calls for general elections in Maine to be decided by pluralities.

Opposition began to mount in the Legislature, where the issue turned partisan, with Democrats generally supportive of the voting method and Republicans opposed. Neither side was able to achieve a supermajority for either starting the process of amending the constitution or scrapping the concept altogether, resulting in the October 2017 passage of a bill that called for either a constitutional amendment by December 2021 or for ranked-choice voting to cease for good.

Supporters of the measure launched a successful people’s veto petition, which led to Question 1 on Tuesday’s ballot.

While debate raged in the Legislature, the issue went to the courts on multiple occasions, culminating in a Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling in April, ordering the secretary of state’s office to implement the system. A federal lawsuit by the Maine Republican Party to bar ranked-choice voting to be used in its nominating elections failed in late May.

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Several voters who supported ranked-choice voting said they hoped it would, if passed, end much of the partisanship that dogs politics today. But proponents’ suggestions that it would lead to more civil campaigning fizzled amid a flurry of late negative campaigning and candidates’ strategic maneuvering to push front-runners down their supporters’ ranked-choice ballots.

“It’s a really important exercise in practical social engagement,” said Maggie Maiorana, 25, of Lewiston. “It’s a more truthful way of making choices in an election. With it, you can start to look at each candidate a little more honestly, and select the most viable options.”

“It makes for more of an honest discussion about the actual qualities of a candidate,” Maiorana added, “instead of playing the game” of voting merely to support the most likely winner.

Susan De La Rosa of Lewiston said she definitely liked experiencing ranked-choice voting in this election. The option, she said, forced her to examine more closely all of the candidates running for governor and U.S. House District 2, although she declined to say how she ranked the candidates.

“I feel more optimism with some of the Democratic choices than I used to” because of the analysis required, De La Rosa said.

BDN writers Nick Sambides Jr. and Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.

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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.