Maine's History of Majority Rule and the Adoption of Plurality Provisions

Prior to Maine’s adoption of the plurality provisions, if a candidate to the state legislature or for governor failed to receive an outright majority in the general election, some contingency would occur to fill the seat. For the House of Representatives, if no candidate for a particular seat received a majority of votes, a second election would take place with the same candidates on the ballot, and that process would repeat until some candidate received a majority of votes (ME Const. art. IV, pt. 1, § 5, 1820). For the Senate, if no candidate in a district received a majority of votes, the state legislature would appoint a senator to that seat from among a variable number of the candidates receiving the most votes (ME Const. art. IV, pt. 2, §§ 4–5, 1820). For the governor, if no candidate received a majority of votes, the House of Representatives would select two candidates from the four receiving the most votes and the Senate would choose one of those two to be seated as governor (ME Const. art. V, pt. 1, § 3, 1820).

Maine adopted a constitutional amendment to elect members of the House of Representatives by “the highest number of votes” in 1847 while rejecting a similar amendment for the Senate and Governor (Marshall J. Tinkle, The Maine State Constitution, 76, 2011). The plurality amendment for the Senate was passed in 1875 on the recommendation of Maine’s first constitutional committee. The “unassailable goals” of these provisions were “to promote efficiency and economy.”

Maine did not adopt a plurality provision for Governor until a dramatic series of events made its current system’s drawbacks plain. In 1878, no candidate received a majority for the office of governor, and the Democratic controlled legislature selected Democrat Alonzo Garcelon as the winner, even though he had come in third in the election. The next year, the election apparently gave control of the state legislature to Republicans, but Governor Garcelon declared sua sponte that many Republican candidates were ineligible and that Democratic candidates should be seated instead. This led to an armed insurrection and very nearly civil war in the state. In 1880, Maine then adopted the plurality provision for the office of governor, bringing it in line with both houses of the state legislature. Finally, in 1963, the provisions were amended to create consistent use of language across the Maine Constitution.

Ranked choice voting is constitutional under the Maine Constitution, because it is consistent with the plain language used by the drafters and with the purposes of the plurality provisions. Under ranked choice voting, the use of ranked ballots serves to determine how many votes each candidate should receive following the full ranked choice voting tabulation, and at the end of tabulation, the candidate with the plurality (the most) votes is elected. This serves the goals of the plurality provisions, to ensure that the voters directly elect their governor and legislators in a single, efficient election.

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