In this Nov. 12, 2018 file photo, an election worker sorts a stack of ballots during a ranked choice voting tabulation in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s highest court has rejected, for a second time, the state GOP’s bid to stop ranked choice voting in the presidential contest, clearing the way for a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, filed Friday, despite several thousand votes already cast in the election.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court already rejected the Maine GOP’s previous appeal, but the GOP returned to seek an injunction to exhaust all state appeals before seeking a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The latest rejection on Thursday came hours after arguments were made, and the matter proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday.

The GOP contended the Maine Constitution required ranked choice voting in the presidential race to be delayed if it could show a likelihood of success on a lawsuit seeking to reinstate a “People’s Veto” referendum. The referendum would have triggered an automatic delay.

The attorney general’s office argued that voting is already underway and that it’s too late to reprint ballots. It would be confusing if voters were told the presidential contest will be decided by a plurality even though the ballots are in a grid format for ranking candidates, the state said.

At issue is whether the Maine GOP collected enough signatures to force a statewide referendum on a law expanding ranked choice voting to the presidential contest. It’s already used in congressional races.

The state supreme court has now twice sided with the secretary of state’s office, which found the GOP effort came up short. The court said the GOP is unlikely to prevail in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Friday, the Maine GOP formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court for either an injunction stopping ranked voting in the presidential race, or a temporary injunction to allow “for a full briefing and consideration.” The case will likely be assigned to a single justice for emergency review.

James Monteleone, attorney for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said Friday that he believes “there’s no hope” for the GOP’s appeal.

The ranked choice voting system, approved by Maine voters in 2016, has become a partisan issue after Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was ousted in 2018 despite collecting the most first-place votes.

Under the system, voters are allowed to rank all candidates in order of preference. A candidate who wins a majority of first-place votes is the winner. If there’s no majority winner, then there are additional tabulation rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated and votes are reallocated to achieve a majority winner.

The voting system is already used in U.S. House and U.S. Senate races in Maine. It isn’t used in state gubernatorial or legislative races because it runs afoul of the Maine Constitution.

Story by David Sharp.