GOP congressman sues to stop Maine's ranked-choice voting count, fears Dem victory

Suddenly Maine's ranked-choice voting system is a problem for Republicans — because they might lose a seat

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published November 13, 2018 7:00PM (EST)

Bruce Poliquin; Jared Golden (AP/Robert F. Bukaty/Salon)
Bruce Poliquin; Jared Golden (AP/Robert F. Bukaty/Salon)

Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to stop the Maine's secretary of state's ongoing ranked-choice ballot count and declare him the winner in Maine's 2nd congressional district.

Poliquin and three supporters filed a sued to stop Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap from counting the ranked-choice ballots, arguing that the process, which was approved by voters in 2016, violates the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

Dunlap said in a statement that the office is “aware of the pending litigation” but will continue the count.

Maine is the first state to approve ranked-choice voting in federal elections. Because both Poliquin and Democratic candidate Jared Golden failed to reach at least 50 percent of the vote, the second choices of the last-place third-party finisher will be allocated to the remaining candidates. If no one reaches 50 percent after the last-place finisher's second-choice votes are allocated, the process continues until someone reaches a majority of the vote.

There are two left-leaning third-party candidates in the race. Attorney Tiffany Bond received nearly 16,500 votes (5.8 percent) while teacher William Hoar, a Marine veteran and state lawmaker, earned received 6,933 votes (2.4 percent). Poliquin leads Golden, the assistant Maine House majority leader, by just 1,910 votes (0.7 percent).

Golden is the favorite to win the vast majority of the left-leaning third-party candidates' votes, according to an exit poll by the Bangor Daily News, which found a large majority of third-party voters backing the Democrat as their second choice. The count is expected to be completed by the end of the week.

Poliquin filed the lawsuit along with three Republican activists, who all said they only ranked Poliquin on their ballots. The lawsuit claims that Dunlap is violating their First and 14th Amendment rights by not declaring the Republican the winner after the first round.

The Maine Republican Party attempted to stop the ranked-choice method from being implemented ahead of the primaries, but a federal judge rejected the lawsuit.

The legality of the ranked-choice method, which voters approved through a ballot initiative two years ago, remains untested. The ranked-choice method was enacted to ensure that winners of races receive a majority of the vote rather than just a plurality. Voters approved the measure after a series of gubernatorial elections in which the winner failed to get a majority of the vote.

Ironically, the Maine Supreme Court issued an opinion ruling that it was illegal under the state constitution for statewide races like the governor's race to be decided by a majority rather than a plurality, but allowed ranked-choice to proceed for federal elections, like Poliquin's House race. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, the Democrat who represents the state's 1st district in southwestern Maine, both won with majorities in the first round of their races.

No other state has ever used ranked-choice voting in a state or federal election, although numerous cities, including San Francisco, have used it in mayoral elections.

Leading up to the second round, Poliquin and Republicans have expressed concerns over a staffer at the secretary of state's office who “liked” tweets backing Golden and criticizing Poliquin, and a ballot box that had been left unattended.

The Democratic Party responded to the concerns by accusing the Republicans of trying to “delegitimize the voting count in races they fear they could lose.”

“Maine Republicans lost decisively on Election Night, and now they’re trying to employ the same scare tactics that they used before the primaries in June,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a statement. “Their attempts to sabotage ranked-choice voting and sow fear and doubt didn’t work then, and they aren’t going to work now.”


By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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