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Maine Republican Party v. Dunlap

United States District Court, D. Maine

May 29, 2018

MATTHEW DUNLAP, in his official capacity as Secretary of State for the State of Maine, Defendant.



         Ranked-choice voting is set to be employed in the Maine primary election on June 12, 2018, following almost two years of legislative and litigated battles between its proponents and detractors. Against this backdrop, the Maine Republican Party[1]filed this civil action on May 4, 2018, and simultaneously moved for a preliminary injunction (ECF No. 3) seeking to prevent the Defendant, Matthew Dunlap, Secretary of State for the State of Maine (the “Secretary”), from implementing ranked-choice voting for the Party's June 12 primary. Also on May 4, the Party adopted a rule requiring that its nominees for elected office be selected using a simple plurality system. In its verified complaint, the Party contends that ranked-choice voting will unconstitutionally infringe on its right to freedom of association guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as incorporated against the State by the Fourteenth Amendment. For the reasons discussed below, I deny the Motion for Preliminary Injunction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         “The Ranked-Choice Voting Act” (the “RCV Act”) is currently in effect for the June 12, 2018, primaries. L.D. 1557, §§ 1-6 (referred to the voters, 127th Legis. 2016) (effective Jan. 7, 2017) (codified at 21-A M.R.S.A. §§ 1(27-C), 1(35-A), 601(2)(J), 722(1), 723-A (2018)). Previously, Maine law required a single-choice voting system in primary and general elections, in which voters voted for a single candidate, and the candidate with the most votes (but not necessarily a majority of votes) won. See Opinion of the Justices, 162 A.3d 188, 197 (Me. 2017). That system is referred to by the parties as a “plurality” system.

         The RCV Act defines ranked-choice voting as “the method of casting and tabulating votes in which voters rank candidates in order of preference, tabulation proceeds in sequential rounds in which last-place candidates are defeated and the candidate with the most votes in the final round is elected.” L.D. 1557, § 2 (codified at 21-A M.R.S.A. § 1(35-A)). Under ranked-choice voting, the first round proceeds much in the same way it did under the plurality system: Each voter's first choice vote is counted, and if any candidate captures an outright majority of the first choice votes that candidate wins. See ECF No. 1 at ¶ 10. But, if no candidate captures a majority of the first choice votes, there is an instant run-off. See Id. The candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated, and all of the ballots that listed him or her as the first choice candidate are counted for their second choice candidate. See Id. The process repeats and eliminates more last place candidates until one candidate receives a majority of the votes. See id.

         Only voters enrolled in the Maine Republican Party will be eligible to cast a vote in the Party's primary on June 12. See ECF No. 13 ¶ 7. Because the ranked-choice voting process is triggered in races with more than two candidates, only two of the upcoming contests in the Republican primary-the contests for Governor of the State of Maine and Representative to the Maine Legislature in House District 75- will be subject to the ranked-choice voting process during the June 2018 primary. See id.

         Following the adoption of the RCV Act by public referendum in 2016, there were legislative efforts to repeal or delay its implementation.[2] The RCV Act's complex post-adoption legislative and judicial history is chronicled in two opinions of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court related to it: Opinion of the Justices, 162 A.3d 188 (Me. 2017) and Maine Senate v. Secretary of State, --- A.3d ---, 2018 WL 1832874 (Me. April 17, 2018). And, as the Court explained in Maine Senate: “The history of ranked-choice voting in Maine to date could provide the substance of an entire civics course on the creation of statutory law in the State of Maine.” Maine Senate, 2018 WL 1832874, at *1.[3]

         In Opinion of the Justices, the Supreme Judicial Court determined that portions of the RCV Act violate several provisions of the Maine Constitution (Art. IV, pt. 1, § 5, Art. IV, pt. 2, § 4, and Art. V, pt. 1, § 3), which, the Court opined, require plurality voting in general elections for Maine's State Senators and Representatives, and for Maine's Governor. See 162 A.3d at 209-11. Accordingly, as of this decision, the ranked-choice voting system is only employed in primary elections for these offices.

         As part of its Party governance, the Maine Republican Party has promulgated rules and bylaws. See ECF Nos. 11-1, 11-2. On May 4, 2018, the Maine Republican Party adopted “Rule 16” at its 2018 biennial state convention. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 27. The rule provides that “The Maine Republican Party's nominees for elected office, including United States Senator, United States Representative, Governor of the State of Maine, State Senator, and State Representative, shall be chosen by a plurality of votes cast.” Id. at ¶ 29; see also ECF No. 11-1 at 9. The Maine Republican Party contends that the May 4 biennial convention was its first opportunity to adopt a rule governing its nomination process following the statewide adoption of ranked-choice voting. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 28. The Maine Republican Party acknowledges that it adopted Rule 16 so as to reject ranked-choice voting as applied to its primary candidates. Id. at ¶ 31.

         The June primary election is 14 days away and the Secretary has taken steps to implement ranked-choice voting. See ECF No. 1 at ¶ 21. At the end of March, the Secretary promulgated proposed rules which will govern the ranked-choice voting process. See Id. at ¶ 22. In early May, the Secretary provided ranked-choice voting training to approximately 275 local election officials to prepare them for the June 12 primary. See ECF No. 13 at ¶ 16. He also distributed written memoranda addressing election issues, including ranked-choice voting, to election officials in all 500 of the State's voting jurisdictions. See Id. Finally, the Secretary has already printed ballots that include ranked-choice voting for the Republican gubernatorial and House District 75 primary races which include instructions to rank candidates in order of preference. See Id. at ¶ 18. Ballots were made available to uniformed service and overseas voters beginning April 27. See Id. at ¶ 4.


         The Maine Republican Party seeks a preliminary injunction which, if granted, would enjoin the Secretary from employing ranked-choice voting in the June 12 primary, and would require that all of the Republican party primary winners be determined by plurality vote. “A preliminary injunction is an ‘extraordinary and drastic remedy' that ‘is never awarded as of right.'” Voice of the Arab World, Inc. v. MDTV Med. News Now, Inc., 645 F.3d 26, 32 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Munaf v. Geren, 553 U.S. 674, 689-90 (2008)) (internal citations omitted). To obtain a preliminary injunction, the moving party must establish: “(1) a likelihood of success on the merits, (2) a likelihood of irreparable harm absent interim relief, (3) a balance of equities in [its] favor, and (4) service of the public interest.” Arborjet, Inc. v. Rainbow Treecare Sci. Advancements, Inc., 794 F.3d 168, 171 (1st Cir. 2015). “The party seeking the preliminary injunction bears the burden of establishing that these four factors weigh in its favor.” Esso Standard Oil Co. v. Monroig-Zayas, 445 F.3d 13, 18 (1st Cir. 2006). However, “[t]he sine qua non of this four-part inquiry is likelihood of success on the merits: if the moving party cannot demonstrate that he is likely to succeed in his quest, the remaining factors become matters of idle curiosity.” New Comm Wireless Servs., Inc. v. SprintCom, Inc., 287 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2002) (emphasis added). I turn to consider the Maine Republican Party's motion relative to the required four-part inquiry, focusing primarily on the likelihood of success on the merits, “the touchstone of the preliminary injunction inquiry.” Maine Educ. Ass'n Benefits Trust v. Cioppa, 695 F.3d 145, 152 (1st Cir. 2012).

         A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

         The Maine Republican Party argues that the RCV Act violates its right of association guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it imposes ranked-choice voting in the Party's primary elections despite the Party's policy, expressed in the newly adopted Rule 16, to select its candidates by plurality voting. This challenge requires the Court to explore the relationship between a political party's constitutional right of free association and a state's constitutionally recognized authority to sponsor and regulate elections.

         “The freedom to associate with others for the advancement of political beliefs and ideas is a form of ‘orderly group activity' protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and ‘[t]he right to associate with the political party of one's choice is an integral part of this basic constitutional freedom.'” Cool Moose Party v. Rhode Island, 183 F.3d 80, 82 (1st Cir. 1999) (quoting Kusper v. Pontikes, 414 U.S. 51, 56-57 (1973)). What is more, the Supreme Court has repeatedly “affirm[ed] the special place the First Amendment reserves for, and the special protection it accords, the process by which a political party ‘select[s] a standard bearer who best represents the party's ideologies and preferences.'” Cal. Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U.S. 567, 575 (2000) (quoting Eu v. San Francisco Cty. Democratic Central Comm., 489 U.S. 214, 224 (1989)). Choosing nominees is vitally important to political parties because “[t]hat process often determines the party's positions on the most significant public policy issues of the day, and even when those positions are predetermined it is the nominee who becomes the party's ambassador to the general electorate in winning it over to the party's views.” Id. at 575.

         Yet, “as a practical matter, there must be a substantial regulation of elections if they are to be fair and honest and if some sort of order, rather than chaos, is to accompany the democratic processes.” Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 730 (1974). The Constitution explicitly requires such oversight as it relates to federal offices, mandating in Article I, § 4, that “[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections . . . shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof, ” U.S. Const. Art. I, § 4, cl. 1, and the Supreme Court has recognized the states' roles in structuring primaries. See Jones, 530 U.S. at 572. The Maine Constitution has a corresponding provision, Article 9, § 12, which establishes the State's role in “prescrib[ing] the manner in which the votes shall be received, counted, and the result of the election declared” for all State and national elections. Accordingly, a political party's control over its primaries is far from unbounded. Instead, when a party avails itself of a state-administered election, it compromises some of its self-governance in exchange for access to the state apparatus:

A political party has a First Amendment right to . . . choose a candidate-selection process that will in its view produce the nominee who best represents its political platform. These rights are circumscribed, however, when the State gives the party a role in the election process. . . Then . . . the State acquires a legitimate governmental interest in ensuring the fairness of the party's nominating process, enabling it to prescribe what that process must be.

N.Y. State Bd. of Elections v. López Torres, 552 U.S. 196, 202-03 (2008) (internal ...

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