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Maine ballots are being collected for ranked-choice voting

AUGUSTA, Maine — Private courier drivers fanned across the state Thursday to collect ballots and return them to the state capital for additional tabulations to determine winners in two Democratic primary elections.

Memory sticks containing election tallies and boxes of hand-counted ballots were being delivered to a secure location in Augusta.

The state's top election officials said they may release unofficial election results sometime next week, after additional tabulations.

Ranked-choice voting works like this: Voters rank candidates from first to last on their ballots. A candidate who collects a majority of the vote wins. If there is no majority, then the last-place candidate is eliminated and votes reallocated. The process is repeated until there is a majority winner.

The voting system is used in 11 local jurisdictions and was used for the first time in a statewide primary on Tuesday.

In addition to using the voting system, Maine residents also voted Tuesday to retain the system, nullifying a legislative delay and allowing it to be used in November's federal elections in Maine.

Ranked-choice voting is sometimes referred to as an "instant runoff" because there's no need for a runoff election.

But the process is far from instant in Maine. Couriers had to travel to more than 500 locations from far northern Maine to islands off the coast to retrieve the ballots from municipal clerks.

The schedule of the couriers was kept secret to avoid public meddling.

In some cases, the schedule was kept secret from clerks as well. In Westbrook, Deputy Clerk Angela Holmes expected the courier on Friday but a driver showed up late Thursday morning instead.

Mike Israelson, vice president of General Courier, said the process was going smoothly overall with 80 pickups within in the first hour or two. It's expected to take two days to retrieve all of the ballots, state officials said.

Additional rounds of tabulations are required in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and 2nd Congressional District race.

In Maine's 2nd Congressional District, state lawmaker Jared Golden, a Marine veteran, had the most first-place votes in Maine's Democratic congressional primary. In the gubernatorial primary, Attorney General Janet Mills had the most first-place votes.

At present, ranked-choice voting cannot be used in state general elections including this November gubernatorial election because of state constitutional concerns.

Supporters face stiff Republican opposition with plans to push a constitutional amendment that would allow the system to be used in the governors' race, where nine out of the last 11 elections failed to produce a majority winner.