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Judge to rule next week on Maine GOP challenge to revised voting rules

Portland Press Herald
May 23. 2018 11:54PM

A federal judge said he will decide early next week whether the Republican Party primary on June 12 will be held under ranked-choice voting rules or whether the candidate who gets the most votes on one ballot will be the party’s nominee.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy didn’t give a hint of which way he is leaning in the party’s effort to continue to select its candidates by a plurality — the most votes even if it’s less than a majority.

Joshua Dunlap, the lawyer for the Republican Party, told Levy during a 45-minute hearing Wednesday that using ranked-choice voting might result in a different candidate for the party. He also said delegates at the state Republican convention earlier this month were unanimous in their opposition to ranked-choice voting and authorized him to file a lawsuit, which has led to a request for a preliminary injunction.

Under ranked-choice voting, voters pick their favorite candidate and then select the rest in order of preference. After a first round of counting, if no candidate gets a majority, the lowest vote-getter is dropped and his or her voters’ second choices are allocated to the other candidates. The process continues until one candidate gets a majority.

Ranked-choice voting was adopted in a referendum election in 2016.

The two sides have traded legal briefs at a much faster-than-normal pace with the primary looming less than three weeks away.

Dunlap said the party should be free to choose its candidates as it always has — the person who gets the most votes in one round of voting. A different method could lead to a different party standard-bearer, he said, and a different message for the party to carry into the election campaign.

“This is about changing the party’s candidate,” he told Levy, and violates a constitutional right to freely associate.

But Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardner said conducting a primary in which voters operate under different sets of rules would lead to “chaos.”

She also said Levy should consider that the law was adopted by the voters, although she admitted that laws adopted by referendum can still be judged unconstitutional.

Barring an injunction, four races on June 12 would operate under ranked-choice voting: the Democratic and Republican races for gubernatorial nominations, a Republican primary for a state House seat and the race for the Democratic congressional nomination in the 2nd Congressional District

Levy said he will issue a written ruling.

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