Voters cast their ballots on Election Day in Gorham. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Good morning from Augusta, where election workers continued counting ballots cast in Maine’s tight 2nd Congressional District race through most of the holiday weekend after collecting them by hand from each precinct across the sprawling district.

In case you were out of the country, or in bed with the flu last week and unable to read the news, here’s a recap of how Maine is making history as the first state in the nation to use a ranked-choice tabulation process for a federal race.

A waiting game continues as state election workers prepare ballots for a second tally. Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, running for a third term, was unable to secure more than 50 percent of votes cast in his district, but did earn the slight majority at 46.3 percent. Nor was his chief opponent, Democrat Jared Golden, who raked in 45.6 percent. As a result, per the ranked-choice process, if no candidate in a race earns more than 50 percent of the vote, other lower scoring candidates in the race — in this case independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar — come into play.

Ballots cast by voters who selected Bond or Hoar as their first choice will now be reallocated, with the second choices listed on those ballots added to tallies of ballots that list Poliquin and Golden as first choice. On Friday, we reported that exit polling indicates the majority of those Mainers who voted for Bond or Hoar ranked Golden over Poliquin.

By Tuesday morning, all ballots in Aroostook, Androscoggin, Franklin and Hancock counties had been tabulated, said Kristen Muszynski, a spokeswoman for Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. She expects the tabulation process in the seven remaining counties to be completed by the end of the week, but completion of the ranked-choice count isn’t likely to end this.

Poliquin, who claimed victory based on Election Day totals, has maintained the ranked-choice process is unlawful under the state constitution — an opinion also embraced by Gov. Paul LePage. The incumbent Republican, who said Saturday he had “ongoing concerns” about the process, is likely to challenge the tabulation results if the race swings in Golden’s favor.

Either candidate will have five days to request a recount after release of the updated results. Poliquin could also take LePage’s advice and challenge the race results in the state’s Supreme Judicial Court or in federal court.

We don’t yet know the basis for a legal challenge if Poliquin were to launch one. But his campaign — and LePage in a Tuesday morning radio interview — hinted that it could, at least in part, rest on claims that the precedent of electing members of Congress by plurality would trump ranked-choice voting. In 2011, a federal court rejected a lawsuit claiming that San Francisco’s use of ranked-choice voting was unconstitutional.

At present, the arguments being made in Maine are more geared to the court of public opinion, but they could make their way to legal arguments should Republicans take the matter to court.

Poliquin’s campaign, echoed by LePage, also raised concerns about ballot security, as all of the ballots from 2nd District precincts were transported by private couriers to Augusta for the ranked-choice retabulation. But those claims depended entirely on speculation and were quickly dismissed by Dunlap on Monday. The count will continue today.

Candidate LePage?

The governor said he would make a political return if his successor doesn’t fund Medicaid expansion to his liking. LePage has been somewhat diplomatic since Attorney General Janet Mills, his main nemesis in Augusta, won last week’s election to succeed him as governor. He wished her “all the success in the world” in a Tuesday interview with WVOM, but only after he laid out conditions for a return bid for the Blaine House.

The political fight dominating the governor’s last year in office has been over Medicaid expansion, which was approved by voters last year but remains unimplemented in a court fight between the LePage administration and advocates. Mills, a Democrat, has vowed to implement it immediately, but she has also pledged to not raise taxes in her first budget.

“If she doesn’t do it sustainably, I will run against her in four years,” LePage said of the 2022 election.

It’s worth noting that the governor has often cried wolf on a second act in statewide politics. In 2015, he told a conservative radio host he was considering a run against U.S. Sen. Angus King. Then, he said it was a joke. He proceeded to tease the run again for months before ruling it out in May 2017. Just over a month later, he cracked the door open to running again. But he eventually endorsed state Sen. Eric Brakey, who lost to King, this past summer.

Reading list

— Maine voters generally found ranked-choice voting easy to understand. Exit polling conducted by the BDN in concert with FairVote and Colby College found that more than 75 percent of people said ranking choices was either somewhat or very easy, compared with just 10 percent who said it was either somewhat or very hard, though 12.1 percent of Republicans called it very hard to just 2.6 percent of Democrats. A much smaller percentage of respondents — 53.4 percent — said that ranked-choice voting should be expanded for use in gubernatorial and legislative elections, with strong support among Democrats and opposition from Republicans.

— Maine elected a record number of women to the Legislature. Maine Public reports that, in addition to electing Democrat Janet Mills to be their first woman governor, Maine voters will send 72 women to the House and Senate when new lawmakers are sworn in next month. That’s an increase of eight over the the number of women serving in the current Legislature, but it’s still less than half of the 186 seats in the Legislature. We will know by the end of this week if more women as lawmakers will mean more women as legislative leaders. In the Senate, which picked leaders last week, the gender breakdown will remain 4-to-1, with incoming Assistant Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, succeeding outgoing Assistant Majority Leader Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, as the only woman in the bunch. House Republicans will pick their two leaders and House Democrats will pick their three leaders later this week. The outgoing House caucuses included one woman in Republican leadership and two women among the three Democratic leaders.

— Military veterans who own businesses in Maine offered economic advice to the new governor. John Brier, 51, a U.S. Army and Massachusetts Guard veteran, has two businesses and two homes in Maine, but he claims Florida residency. He urged Mills, who is putting together a transition team before taking office in January, to focus on lowering taxes and health care costs. Rock Nadeau, 64, co-owner of the White Cedar Inn Bed and Breakfast in Freeport, criticized LePage for saying he plans to move to Florida and urged Mills to help Maine’s tourism industry by taking steps to make the state more welcoming, especially to Canadians.

— Maine’s senior senator would support a Senate vote to protect the ongoing investigation of Russian tampering in the 2016 presidential election. The Associated Press reports that Republican Sen. Susan Collins wants the Senate to put on record its support for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, even though she knows President Donald Trump would not sign such a bill. She also expressed concern about the appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general because of his comments about setting parameters for the probe.

— On the topic of vote-counting shenanigans, a Portland City Council candidate wants a recount. Citing voting machine malfunctions in multiple precincts, Joey Brunelle has requested a recount after losing his bid for an at-large seat on the council. Brunelle said he was leading race when voting machines malfunctioned, requiring that ballots be counted by hand hours after the polls closed. He narrowly lost to incumbent Councilor Nick Mavodones by about 700 votes, but he’s asking for a recount in three polling places where the machines malfunctioned. Because the margin was more than 1 percent, the city is not required to conduct the recount.

Rodent resuscitation

It must be the Year of the Squirrel.

After what had to be a monumentally good mating season this spring, the pesky varmints have been everywhere, prompting journalists throughout the Northeast to write about their neighborhood-invading successes — and tire-dodging failures.

Then there was the Michael Phelps of squirrels caught on video in Maine waters. Surely, it forebodes the creation of a rodent navy.

Our dearly departed friend and colleague, Chris Cousins — who engaged in epic wars with nut-chewing intruders — would be aghast and gearing up for an apocalyptic conflict with the bushy-tailed hordes.

Now comes this viral video of a Minnesota teen performing CPR to revive a squirrel that had been struck by a car. He had better luck than my sister, who once found a frozen squirrel and brought it home. She thought it would be a good idea to unfreeze it and bring it back to life by placing it in an oven set at 350 degrees.

The flat, frozen furrball did not come back to life — and it took about five days to get rid of the roasted dead squirrel smell that permeated our kitchen.

For the Lazarus squirrel in Minnesota, here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...