GOP Congressman on the Outs Loses Ranked-Choice Protest

This combination of file photos shows U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2017, left, and state Rep. Jared Golden in 2018, right, in Maine. Golden challenged Poliquin for the 2nd District congressional seat in the November 2018 general election. Golden, who finished behind Republican U.S. Rep. Poliquin in the first round of balloting in Maine’s new voting system, came from behind to flip the U.S. House seat representing one of two congressional districts in the state, election officials said on Nov 15, 2018. (AP Photos/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

BANGOR, Maine (CN) – A federal judge upheld Maine’s ranked-choice voting on Thursday, dismissing a claim by a GOP lame-duck congressman that voters were confused by the new system.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin sued Maine’s secretary of state along with a group of other Republican voters who made only one selection in the four-way race this past November.

Maine adopted the new ranked-choice system, also known as instant-runoff voting, via ballot measure in 2016. The process requires voters to rank their choices in races with more than two candidates. If no candidate gains a majority of the vote, the second choice of those voters who chose the least-successful candidate would get their votes. This process repeats each round until one candidate has the majority of votes.

Maine’s 2nd Congressional District was the first to test out the new vote-counting method. Despite incumbent Poliquin winning a plurality of the vote, he dropped to second place once the second and third choices of voters who supported neither candidate were tabulated.

Without ranked-choice voting, Poliquin would have won with 46.2 percent of the vote in a four-way race. He did not gain a majority of the vote, so under Maine’s new ranked-choice voting law, Democratic challenger Jared Golden took the lead, 142,440 to Poliquin’s 138,931.

In Poliquin’s lawsuit, the voters argued that the ranked-choice system undercut their vote.

U.S. District Judge Lance Walker denied Poliquin an injunction on Thursday, however, and entered final judgment in favor of the state.

“I fail to see how plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to express themselves in this election were undercut in any fashion by the RCV Act,” the 30-page opinion states, using an abbreviation for ranked-choice voting. “They expressed their preference for Bruce Poliquin and none other, and their votes were counted.”

Walker rejected Poliquin’s argument that voters who failed to choose him or his main Democratic challenger in their first round were confused, because they were only candidates with a chance to win.

“To put it generously, plaintiffs have not demonstrated persuasively that the inferences that they draw from the ballot data are more likely true than false,” Walker wrote. “That is, plaintiffs contend that the ballot was too confusing for the average voter of Maine’s Second Congressional District to understand, as evidenced by those ballots in which the voter did not select either Mr. Golden or Mr. Poliquin as their down-ballot choices.”

The Campaign Legal Center, which filed a brief in support of the Ranked Choice Voting law, celebrated the court ruling.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the First Amendment rights of Maine voters, who chose this system as the best way to express their choice for federal office in November,” Mark Gaber, senior legal counsel at Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. “The court’s well-reasoned decision gives voters the chance to express preferences for more than a single candidate, which enhances voter choice. The Court recognized that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution specifically empowered states to determine the procedures for electing members of Congress, and upheld the right of Maine voters to use the election system of their choice.”

Maine’s Supreme Court found last year that the Ranked-Choice Voting law violated the Maine Constitution, which specifically calls for state elections to be settled by a plurality of the vote. The court’s decision also noted that the state Legislature could simply amend the Maine Constitution if it desired to institute ranked-choice voting.

Voters blocked an effort by the Legislature to slow down or outright repeal the law through a ballot-measure during June’s Maine primary.

A representative for Poliquin’s campaign did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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