What Is Ranked Choice Voting? Maine to Use Process for Presidential Election After State Supreme Court Ruling

The Maine Supreme Court issued a ruling on Tuesday that allows the state to use ranked choice voting during the 2020 presidential election.

The decision means that, instead of picking just one candidate listed on their ballots, voters in Maine will rank each based on who they prefer to fill the position. The process is designed to provide a solution when no one candidate wins a majority of the votes cast. In that instance, the votes cast for the candidate who receives the smallest amount of voter support are reallocated based on the voters' second-choice candidates, and a majority is determined from there.

Maine will be the first state in U.S. history to use this voting process in a presidential election, according to the Associated Press.

Early voting
Voters cast their ballots for the 2020 election at an early, in-person voting location in Arlington, Virginia, on September 18, 2020. On September 22, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that the state can use ranked choice voting during the 2020 presidential election. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

Maine voters will also use ranked choice voting for the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate candidates running this election season. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican who has represented Maine in the Senate since 1997, is currently running a competitive race against Democratic challenger Sara Gideon of Maine's House of Representatives. Democrats have identified Collins as one of several vulnerable candidates whose seat could flip in their favor this election season.

Members of Maine's legislature have debated ranked choice voting since 2001, according to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. Residents first voted in favor of using ranked choice voting for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state legislature and governor during the 2016 general election, and Maine voters used the process for the first time in 2018. Several efforts have been made since then to either narrow or expand the process, including one that went into law earlier this year allowing ranked choice voting to be used during presidential primaries and general elections.

The move to include presidential races in ranked choice voting became the subject of the legal challenge that Maine's Supreme Court decided upon Tuesday. Earlier this summer, Dunlap determined that an effort to repeal ranked choice voting did not receive enough valid signatures to appear on the November 3 ballot. Dunlap's decision was reversed by a state court in late August before the Maine Supreme Court issued its decision allowing ranked choice voting to move forward on Election Day.

The state Supreme Court wrote that, due to its determination that several hundred signatures needed to repeal the voting process were declared invalid, "an inadequate number of valid signatures had been submitted to place the people's veto on the ballot." The decision was to be implemented immediately so that ranked choice voting could proceed during the November 3 election, the court ruled.

Election officials began printing ballots featuring ranked choice voting options earlier this month, according to a news release from Dunlap's office. President Donald Trump, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and three others will appear as Maine voters' options for president, the AP reported. Dunlap's office currently lists the Alliance Party's Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente, the Green Party's Howard Hawkins and the Libertarian Party's Jo Jorgensen as the other three presidential candidates on the state's ballots.

In a statement shared with Newsweek, Dunlap thanked the justices for their quick decision and said that the high court's ruling was important regardless of the legal matter at hand because it emphasized the importance of validating signatures for legislative efforts:

The certification process is a painstaking, yet expedited process to ensure that any initiative or people's veto that comes forward as a ballot question before the voters of Maine appears there with the legitimacy afforded by having met all requirements of the Maine Constitution. Our work in the certification of any initiated effort of the people is entirely to achieve that assurance regardless of the political discourse around the matter at hand.

The decision thereby upholds our office's determination that the people's veto effort to repeal the use of ranked-choice voting in the presidential election did not gather enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. Thus, Maine voters can now be assured that the race for U.S. President on the November ballot will be conducted using ranked-choice voting, and the people's veto question regarding the use of that voting method for president will NOT appear on this ballot.

As we have already printed the ballots, due to the federal deadlines we must meet to provide ballots for overseas and military voters, this decision comes as a great relief and avoids the complications, confusion and expense that would have arisen from reprinting and reissuing ballots.