Spencer Quirion (left) talks to Benjamin Umel outside of the Brewer Auditorium on Tuesday morning where Quirion was collecting signatures to repeal ranked choice voting.

In an emergency order on Tuesday, a judge ordered Portland to allow the Maine Republican Party to gather signatures at polling places for a people’s veto effort to repeal ranked-choice voting in presidential races.

The order came after a day of disputes between the city and party on the issue as Portland voters decided on a measure that would expand the use of ranked-choice voting to city council and school board races. Portland has used it in mayoral races since 2011. Maine voted in 2016 to use it in races for Congress and state offices.

Last month, the Maine Republican Party launched a people’s veto campaign to repeal a law passed in 2019 by the Democratic-led Legislature to expand the use of ranked-choice voting to presidential races beginning in November 2020. The law would be delayed if it makes the ballot.

The party issued a Facebook post late Monday saying Portland was refusing to allow it to get signatures there. On Tuesday, Jessica Grondin, a city spokesperson, cited a state law that seeks to prohibit groups from trying to influence voters on an issue before them on the ballot, arguing the party’s effort is closely related to the city vote.

Jason Savage, the executive director of the party, said it looked like Portland and the party would come to a compromise Tuesday that would allow gatherers to work at three polling places, but they were told to go 150 feet from those buildings once they arrived.

“It was a strange little game being played,” he said.

The party filed for a temporary restraining order allowing it to gather signatures in the city on Tuesday, which was quickly granted by a Maine Superior Court judge. Savage said the party gained access to the polls around 3 p.m., giving it five hours to collect signatures.

Grondin said the city’s decision was grounded in balancing two interests: “the voter’s ability to vote without undue influence and the GOP’s ability to gather signatures for its petition.”

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, agreed with the city’s decision. Dunlap said the decision was made in keeping with his office’s precedent. In 2017, he said the office told a group advocating for universal health care that it couldn’t pass out postcards at polling stations during a referendum on Medicaid expansion.

Dunlap said the Republican effort and others like it could cause confusion given Portland’s vote on the subject. Savage stressed that the party only wanted access to voters after they cast ballots. The secretary of state said he didn’t see the judge’s order as a rebuke of his policy.

“Courts historically tend to err on the side of petitioner and voters and we’ve seen that happen for many, many years,” he said.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...