As we’ve said before, clarity from the courts about Maine’s much-debated ranked-choice voting system would be a good thing for the state. And now we have it, courtesy of Rep. Bruce Poliquin.
In a 30-page decision issued Thursday, federal Judge Lance Walker considered — and dismantled — each of the arguments from the legal team representing Poliquin and three Republican voters related to the use of ranked-choice voting in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.
In November, Poliquin lawyer Lee Goodman made reference to the potential clarity this lawsuit could provide, even as the lawsuit sought to have Poliquin declared the winner of the Nov. 6 election, which was won by Democrat Jared Golden after ranked-choice votes were tallied.
Even if the lawsuit was not successful, “at least everyone in Maine would have certainty that they are participating in a democratic election that is constitutional,” Goodman said at the time.
Walker has made the picture a whole lot clearer.
Certainly, Poliquin has a right to appeal Thursday’s ruling. But Walker’s strong and methodical takedown of each of Poliquin’s constitutional arguments should give the congressman pause about continuing to drag out this fight. Walker summarily dismissed claims that ranked-choice voting violated the Constitution’s due process and equal treatment provisions.
“To the extent that the Plaintiffs call into question the wisdom of using RCV, they are free to do so, but for the reasons that I have indicated previously and upon which I elaborate presently, such criticism falls short of constitutional impropriety,” Walker said in his discussion about ranked-choice voting and Article I of the U.S. Constitution. “A majority of Maine voters have rejected that criticism and Article I does not empower this Court to second guess the considered judgment of the polity on the basis of the tautological observation that RCV may suffer from problems, as all voting systems do.”
Translation: Thank you, next.
Walker methodically rejected Poliquin’s arguments that ranked-choice voting violates the U.S. Constitution and federal Voting Rights Act, ultimately denying requests for Poliquin to be named the winner of the election or for a new election to be held.
The ruling wasn’t unexpected, given Walker’s previous denial of Poliquin’s motion to stop the ranked-choice tabulation, but it left little doubt about the judge’s resistance to Poliquin’s overall legal argument.
As Walker said in his ruling, the arguments felt better suited for debate in public discourse and policymaking rather than before a judge.
“Whether RCV is a better method for holding elections is not a question for which the Constitution holds the answer,” he wrote in his decision. “By design, the freedoms and burdens of self-governance leave normative questions of policy to be worked out in the public square and answered at the ballot box.”
Make no mistake, this case is bigger than Poliquin and Golden. Their respective legal teams include national Republican and Democratic rockstars of campaign finance. Goodman is a former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission, and one of Golden’s lawyers, Marc Elias, was general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. This has always been a proxy war of sorts — not just a battle between the two national and state parties for a congressional seat — but also a test case with national implications for the future of ranked-choice voting.
Poliquin and his team have said they were pushing in part for legal clarity, and they got it — not from the Democrats, not from ranked-choice voting advocates, and not even from this RCV-skeptical editorial board — but from a federal judge.
Poliquin and the plaintiffs have tested their constitutional concerns, and they did not pass muster with Walker.
At a certain point, dragging out this case despite a clear ruling in U.S. District Court, is unfair to the people of the 2nd District who deserve to have a representative seated when the new Congress convenes.