Opinion

There’s still time to pass ranked-choice voting for March primary

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Gov. Janet Mills has called the Legislature back into special session next week to consider a smart investment package that includes money for transportation, to boost the economy, to clean up pollution and for the Land for Maine’s Future program.

The money to pay for the debt service on the bonding was already included in the state’s two-year budget, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

But there’s a hiccup.

Republicans are pressuring the governor and legislative leaders to ensure that business during the special session is limited to just bonds, and they’ve told anyone who cares to listen that their intent is to vote just for a transportation bond — leaving other critical needs unaddressed.

Despite overwhelming public support for the Land for Maine’s Future program and the need to expand access to high-speed Internet to rural parts of the state, despite the importance of our clean air and clean water to our economy, and despite other pressing items of business, Republicans are simply saying no.

It remains to be seen if this opposition will hold. Many of the programs the bonds would support are popular among voters.

There’s also one piece of unfinished business that requires attention — or once again the will of Maine voters will be ignored — and Republicans mostly don’t like it.

On the last night of the Legislature’s regular session, a bill to ensure that Maine’s new presidential primary would include ranked-choice voting got hung up in the Senate at the last minute.

The bill had easily passed the House, 89-56, the day before and had passed in the Senate on an early vote, 20-14.

There’s urgency for the Legislature to act, and the bill really just needs to be considered in the Senate for it to be enacted and sent to the governor’s desk for consideration.

There’s some question about whether the governor, with her specific proclamation, has limited the Legislature’s ability to consider anything other than bonds. I do not believe the governor has the authority to restrict legislative action once the members are in session. Once they are back in Augusta, they’re back. Separation of powers protects the Legislature’s prerogative.

Assuming that a half-hearted people’s veto fails, Maine switched from party caucuses to a primary for next year’s presidential campaign.

The new primary will be held in March, and will likely include a crowded Democratic field of contenders. The Legislature needs to act now, during the special session, or Maine voters will miss the opportunity to rank candidates in the primary.

The clock will run out.

Maine uses ranked-choice voting in its other federal elections and in primaries for state races. By adopting RCV, the Legislature will take another step in aligning our election systems.

Twice voters have gone to the polls to show their support for ranked-choice voting, first in 2016 and then again in 2018.

Maine has an opportunity to once again lead and to grab the national spotlight heading into a presidential election year.

The governor’s $163 million bond proposal is good public policy and a smart investment. It will help to create jobs, strengthen our economy, protect our environment and help upgrade our roads and bridges.

That’s important work with real world implications for the state.

So is ranked-choice voting.

I’m hardly unbiased. I’ve done work for The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting and a candidate who I advised in 2018 joined the lawsuit to protect the law and ensure that it was implemented.

I understand the reluctance to take up work beyond bonds during a special session.

But ranked-choice voting is one piece of unfinished business that lawmakers should complete when they return to Augusta next week.

If they don’t, voters will likely miss the opportunity to rank their candidates in March’s presidential primary — despite making it clear time and time again that they want to use RCV for elections in Maine.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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