After his historic loss in a ranked-choice count earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District has asked for the state’s first recount using the new method, which is unlikely to reverse the outcome and is expected to take four weeks.
It is the second front on which the two-term Republican is challenging the November election, which he lost to Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, a Democrat. Poliquin’s lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the ranked-choice method is active in federal court.
In a statement, Poliquin spokesman Brendan Conley said the campaign has “heard from countless Maine voters who were confused and even frightened their votes did not count” because of “computer-engineered” ranked-choice voting. Conley said the campaign wanted a recount “conducted by real people.”
The software used to tally votes is a fairly basic but secure computer program that calculates totals using state rules, and there is no evidence of software or ballot tampering, said Kristen Muszynski, a spokeswoman for Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, on Monday evening.
“Part of the confidence that voters can have in the process is that we double check everything” by hand if need be, particularly errors or second-round results that didn’t line up with the initial tally, Muszynski said.
Golden beat Poliquin by more than 2,900 votes, according to official totals from Dunlap’s office. Since Poliquin lost by a margin of more than a percentage point, his campaign will have to foot the bill for the recount unless it changes the election outcome, according to state law.
Muszynski said a recount date has not been set, but it is estimated that it will take four weeks to finish. In a statement, Golden said “dragging this process out only hurts the people we were elected to serve” and could affect constituent work that Poliquin should transfer to him.
In the federal court case, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker will hear arguments for and against ranked-choice voting on Dec. 5, but he undercut the incumbent’s argument in an earlier order, saying Poliquin was unlikely to prove that the method caused constitutional harm and allowing the ranked-choice vote to proceed.
Poliquin was ahead of Golden in the first round of voting, but the Democrat won the election after gaining 44.5 percent of the voters who picked either of the two independents in the race as their first choice. Poliquin won over only 20.4 percent of those voters while another 35.1 percent chose no preference between the party candidates.
Gov. Paul LePage signaled on Monday that he would not certify the election results, though that is not expected to affect the outcome. The Republican governor’s spokeswoman, Julie Rabinowitz, said he “has been advised that he cannot legally certify a federal election while litigation regarding the election is pending.”
Dunlap, a Democrat, addressed that possibility at a Bangor event earlier this month that “nobody can stop the will of the voters” and it cannot be done by “refusing to sign a proclamation.” LePage also made a similar threat during the June primaries that went nowhere.
The Republican looks to be testing the mathematical boundaries of a recount. Only 27 of the 4,687 statewide general elections between 2000 and 2015 went to a recount with only a median swing of 219 votes, according to data collected by FairVote, a national electoral reform group.
The 2nd District recount will be the first under the ranked-choice voting method approved by voters in 2016. Poliquin was the first incumbent to lose in the 2nd District in its modern configuration. The last recount in a Maine congressional district was in a 2016 1st District primary between Republicans Mark Holbrook and Ande Smith. Holbrook’s winning margin increased by two votes.
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