Republicans, who profess to be the party of the rule of law, are working across the country to stop the most basic aspect of our democracy, the counting of votes.
This is nonsense — and undemocratic.
Maine is a unique case because of ranked-choice voting, the twice voter approved method that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Under ranked-choice voting, a candidate must earn more than 50 percent of the vote to be declared the winner. Ranked-choice voting was used in last Tuesday’s election for Maine’s congressional delegation. It was also used in the June primary.
Sen. Angus King won re-election with 54 percent of the vote in a three-way race, so ranked-choice voting did not come into play. The same was true with 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree, who was re-elected to a sixth term with 59 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
In Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, unofficials results show both Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden earned 46 percent of the first round vote, with Poliquin ahead by 2,001 votes. Independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar won about 6 percent and 2 percent of the vote, respectively.
Exit polling, conducted by the Bangor Daily News and Fair Vote, shows that Golden, a state lawmaker, is likely to win the election when the ranked-choice tallies are complete.
Late last week, the Maine secretary of state’s office began collecting ballots to be brought to August where they ranked-choice results will be tallied.
Poliquin’s campaign quickly began planting doubts about ranked-choice voting, deceptively suggesting that it was clear that he “won Election Day.” He also said that “multiple votes” were allowed and that votes were “ reallocated.” This led his supporters to make wild claims about election fraud.
On Tuesday, Poliquin and three backers filed suit in federal court to stop the vote counting in Augusta.
The complaint begins with a falsehood. It argues that Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution “sets a plurality vote as the qualification for election to U.S. House of Representatives.” It does not. Instead, it says House members will be elected every two years by “electors” who are qualified to vote for members of the Maine House of Representatives. It says nothing about a plurality vote.
Poliquin and the three voters who joined the suit all say they voted for only Poliquin and did not rank any of the other three candidates. They argue that voting instruction were “vague” and didn’t inform voters that “they may be effectively disenfranchised … if they fail to rank all the candidates.”
It has been clear from the start with ranked-choice voting that voters can rank as few or as many candidates as they like. If they rank only one, as many Republican candidates suggested that their supporters do, it is obvious that no other choices will be — or can be — tallied. This is not voter disenfranchisement, this is voter choice. It is the same as if a voter chose not to cast a vote for governor because she didn’t like any of the candidates, but voted on other races and questions on the ballot.
True voter disenfranchisement is not counting all the votes that were cast.
Although Poliquin and many Republicans are not fans of ranked-choice voting, it is the law. Voters approved it by referendum in November 2016 and, after lawmakers delayed its use until a constitutional amendment was passed, voters reinstated it in June. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an advisory opinion last year that portions of the ranked-choice voting law conflicted with the Maine Constitution, which actually does say that a plurality of votes, not a majority, are needed to be elected to the Legislature and Blaine House. Ranked-choice voting was used for all races with more than two candidates in the June primary and for federal offices last week.
For the sake of election integrity, all the votes cast in last week’s election must be counted, in Maine and around the country. Here, that means using the ranked-choice voting system.