- Associated Press - Friday, January 13, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Republican Senate leaders say they will ask the state’s highest court to weigh in on the constitutionality of a new voting scheme approved by voters last fall.

Democratic Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said he supports the effort to ensure that implementation of the law can proceed properly.

Ranked-choice voting would let Maine residents rank their ballot choices from first to last. It’s a system that supporters say would ensure that a candidate wins majority support while eliminating the impact of spoilers and rejecting party extremists who lack centrist appeal.

The Supreme Judicial Court can issue advisory opinions to the governor or Legislature on legal issues of high public importance.

Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau said legal guidance is needed to protect Maine elections because ranked-choice voting may require amending the state’s constitution, which refers to a “plurality of votes” - more votes than any other candidate but not an absolute majority - deciding elections.

“This isn’t about whether you support ranked-choice voting, it’s about making sure we don’t throw our election system into turmoil,” he said.

The new system likely will require legislators to set aside money for new software, and Thibodeau added “someone’s going to challenge this in court if we don’t get clarity.”

Thibodeau said Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills also expressed interest in the idea. Mills’ office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage this week said on WGAN-AM he doubts legislators would have the backbone to repeal ranked-choice voting even if the justices said it is unconstitutional.

The winners of nine of Maine’s past gubernatorial elections, marked by three-way races, have failed to get at least 50 percent of the vote, including LePage. Still, the governor was re-elected in 2014 with the most Maine votes cast in history.

LePage on Thursday said that if the concern is about the 50 percent mark, a better way to do it would have been to “take the top two vote-getters” and send them out to voters for another vote.

“It’s very clean, less expensive,” he said.

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