Maine’s “Ranked-Choice Voting” Election Process Selects First Congressman, a Democrat, in a Dramatic Reversal

More than a week later, the full extent of the 2018 Midterm Elections is still finalizing with several important pending races across the nation. Perhaps one of the most interesting is that of Maine’s second congressional district, which is utilizing “ranked-choice voting” to elect its congressional representative—a first in the nation.

Today, in a dramatic reversal, this Maine race suddenly ended with the Democratic challenger named as the winner, despite trailing the Republican in the first round of vote counting. In just a matter of seconds, a computer algorithm reallocated voters' choices after eliminating lowest performing candidates.


Maine's Ranked-Choice Voting Method:

In 2016, Maine's residents voted to adopt this more complex method of electing its candidates, when no candidate earns a simple majority. As the Portland Press Herald explains:

This is the first time in U.S. history that a congressional race was decided using ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to cast ballots for their favorite candidate but also rank other candidates in order of preference. Those ranked-choice votes only come into play, however, when no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on the initial tally.

To say it can be confusing is an understatement. WMTW/8-ABC explains further how this method of election works:

The ranked-choice voting system lets voters rank candidates from first to last on the ballot. It provides for eliminations of last-place candidates and reallocations of votes to ensure a majority winner.


Maine's 2018 Second Congressional Race:

This year, there was a four-way race in Maine's second congressional district, with a Democrat, a Republican, and two minor independent candidates all in the running. Up until today, Republican Congressman Poliquin held a slight lead. However, the narrow race was dramatically reshuffled today. As the Portland Press Herald noted:

[Incumbant Republican Bruce] Poliquin held a narrow, roughly 2,000-vote lead over [Democratic challenger Jared] Golden in the four-way race. But Poliquin did not receive a clear majority of votes needed to win outright, thereby pushing the tabulation to voters’ second--or perhaps third--choice candidates until one of the front-runners crests the 50 percent threshold. Supporters for the two independents in the race, Tiffany Bond and William Hoar, ultimately decided the election via how they ranked Golden and Poliquin.

Of the second-choice votes redistributed Thursday, Golden received 10,232 while 4,695 went to Poliquin. More than 8,000 of the ballots cast for independents did not designate a second choice....

[Ultimately,] Democrat Jared Golden won 50.5 percent of the vote versus 49.5 for incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin after the elections results were run through the ranked-choice tabulation software.


Is Rank-Choice Voting Constitutional?:

In short, the courts have yet to rule on this question. However, they may soon be called to rule on this. The Portland Press Herald continues:

Poliquin is challenging the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in federal court, and the campaign could ask for a recount of the results...“It is now officially clear I won the constitutional ‘one-person, one-vote’ first choice election on Election Day that has been used in Maine for more than one hundred years,” Poliquin said in a statement Thursday afternoon after the results were announced. “We will proceed with our constitutional concerns about the rank vote algorithm.”

Poliquin and three other plaintiffs had asked U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker to declare the ranked-choice process unconstitutional and effectively declare Poliquin the winner. They also asked for Walker to halt the tabulation process until he can consider the constitutionality question...Walker’s order on Thursday denied the request for immediate intervention but leaves open the possibility of a legal battle over the results.

Walker cited Maine voters’ repeated support for ranked-choice voting ["RCV"] in his ruling Thursday...“As it stands, the citizens of Maine have rejected the policy arguments plaintiffs advance against RCV,” Walker wrote. “Maine voters cast their ballots in reliance on the RCV system. For the reasons indicated above, I am not persuaded that the United States Constitution compels the Court to interfere with this most sacred expression of democratic will by enjoining the ballot-counting process and declaring Representative Poliquin the victor.”


The RNLA will keep you posted should there be any new developments on this new method of voting and its implications in Maine's second congressional district race.