Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) said he would “probably not” certify the results of Tuesday’s primary election in his state because he believes a new system voters are using to elect candidates is unconstitutional.
Maine is using a system called ranked-choice voting for the first time in Tuesday’s primary election, becoming the first state to use the process for a statewide contest. If there are three or more candidates in a contest, voters rank them in order of preference. If no candidate wins an outright majority, the politician with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated. The second-place votes of the people who supported the eliminated candidate are distributed to those who remain in the race. The process continues until a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote.
LePage’s comments mark the latest phase of a twisted legal dispute involving ranked-choice voting in the state. Republicans have unsuccessfully sought in both federal and state court to block using the system in the state’s primaries.
In an interview with WCSH-TV, LePage called the system “the most horrific thing in the world” and said he would leave it up to the courts to certify the results.
Voters initially approved using the measure in 2016, but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has also blocked ranked-choice voting from being used in general elections for state offices because of a provision in the state constitution that says candidates need only be elected by a plurality, not a required majority as is necessary under a ranked-choice system. The legislature voted to delay it until 2021, citing conflicts in the state’s constitution
Despite that opinion, the court also ordered the state to use it for the first time in Tuesday’s primary.
“I will not … certify ranked-choice voting because it is unconstitutional,” LePage told Maine Public Radio. “The Supreme Court has said it is unconstitutional.”
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) said LePage’s threat was without weight.
“It really doesn’t make a difference. His authority to certify is inherent in election results; the primary is a nomination, not an election. So he can’t prevent people from qualifying for the November ballot,” Dunlap said in an email.
Maine law requires the governor to certify election results “within a reasonable time after an election.”
Maine voters on Tuesday are also voting on a ballot measure to decide whether the legislature’s delay of ranked-choice voting can continue, or whether it should go into effect immediately.
Phil Bartlett, the chairman of the Maine Democratic party, accused LePage of intentionally trying to create “chaos.”
“Gov. LePage has never missed an opportunity to misrepresent facts, spread false information, and exaggerate situations to try to achieve his ends,” he said in a statement. “At this point it’s clear he’s doing it not because he’s simply misinformed but because he wants to create chaos — and that’s not only reckless, but deeply irresponsible.”
The Maine constitution gives the governor 10 days to proclaim the results of a ballot measure.
Jim Burke, a law professor at the University of Maine, told the Portland Press Herald that advocates could turn to the courts to try and force the governor to recognize the results of the ballot measure.
Julie Rabinowitz, a LePage spokeswoman, declined to provide more details on the governor’s comments.
“We are not speculating on any actions; the voters need to vote,” she wrote in an email.
This story has been updated with comment from Bartlett.