On Thursday, Jared Golden, Maine’s new representative for the 2nd Congressional District becomes the first U.S. House member to be sworn into office after winning an election that used ranked-choice voting.
The historic moment for Golden, which comes amid a government shutdown and heightened (if that was possible) partisan tensions, was not always a sure thing. Outgoing Rep. Bruce Poliquin mounted an unsuccessful, two-pronged challenge to the election result with a lawsuit and recount push — both of which he abandoned before Christmas.
In recognition of the occasion, and despite our own lingering hesitancies about ranked-choice voting and some unresolved state constitutional concerns, we decided to take a look back at the ranked-choice voting saga since election day and rank its best and worst participants.
This is not an extensive list — call it an exhausted ballot given the amount of people involved — but one that seeks to highlight some of the notable actors and moments in an electoral and constitutional battle that will have national implications beyond Golden assuming office.
1. Judge Lance Walker
The U.S. District Court Judge who delivered an 30-page dismantling of Poliquin’s legal arguments, is our standout first choice — not because of his ultimate decision, but because of the surgically precise and well-reasoned way in which he delivered it. Given the uncertainty swirling around ranked-choice voting, Maine needed clarity. And Walker provided it with thoughtful force.
2. Jared Golden
Golden ranks second on our list, more because of what he didn’t do or say during Poliquin’s challenge. The incoming congressman mostly kept his head down and left the arguments to his lawyers, occasionally needling Poliquin but focusing more on the work he would be doing if and when the challenges were resolved in his favor.
3. Lawyers, hired guns and money
The constitutional and electoral importance of ranked-choice voting extended far past the bounds of Maine’s 2nd District, and as a result, we saw hard-hitting legal talent imported by both parties. The national influence — and money — that poured into this challenge came not only with an eye on who controls more seats in Congress, but also the future of ranked-choice voting across the country.
The reality is, both sides were well-funded and nationally supported. It led to some interesting lawyering, but unfortunately cast Maine as a battleground for a national proxy-war between the parties.
4. Paul LePage
Maine’s now-former governor, who Poliquin also technically sued because of LePage’s official capacity certifying state elections, was in tune with his fellow Republican in criticising the ranked-choice voting process. LePage, who shares a political adviser with Poliquin, eventually did certify the election results once the court case was dropped, but did so only by signing his initials along with a note that read “stolen election.” LePage’s parting dig was in step with some of his past antics: incorrect, irresponsible and a bit amusing.
5. Matt Dunlap
Maine’s Secretary of State’s undoubtedly faced on uphill slog to implement an largely untested new voting system in the face of minimal resources, skepticism (including from the BDN editorial board), and mounting pressure and criticism — particularly from the political right. But he also decided to politicise his role at the worst time.
In a Dec. 14 press release, Dunlap said Walker’s ruling “makes it legally clear that it is not unconstitutional to lose an election.” And on his personal Facebook Page, Dunlap on Dec. 21 shared a BDN story about Poliquin’s unsuccessful appeal effort, adding the comment “Incidentally, his middle initial is L.” In that post, the Secretary of State threw a rhetorical punch at Bruce Lee Poliquin by basically calling him a loser.
Both statements were strange swipes at Poliquin and beneath the Office of Secretary of State.
6. Bruce Poliquin
The outgoing congressman may have received the most first-place votes Nov. 6, but he is last on our list because of the manner in which he went about his legal challenge and recount. While both were arguably helpful for Maine specifically in terms of the clarity and insight they provided relative to ranked-choice voting, Poliquin continually undermined his own claim that the legal fight was “for the people of Maine” by demonstrating a willingness to engage in speculation and far-fetched rhetoric about black boxes and artificial intelligence aimed at eroding faith in Maine’s electoral system rather than sticking to his several — and ultimately unsuccessful — constitutional arguments.