Politics

Defeated Rep. Bruce Poliquin Calls for Lengthy Ranked Choice Recount

The Maine Republican would be required to personally foot the bill

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, would have to overcome a more than 3,500 vote deficit in a lengthy recount to maintain his seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ranked-choice voting has a dedicated foe in defeated Rep. Bruce Poliquin

The Maine Republican called for a hand recount of ballots cast in the race for the 2nd District — the first election in the nation to use ranked-choice voting to fill a congressional seat — decrying the software used to allocate voters’ preferences as a “black-box voting system.”

“No one is able to review the algorithm used by a computer to determine elections,” Poliquin campaign spokesman Brendan Conley said in a statement Monday night. “This artificial intelligence is not transparent.”

After Election Day, Poliquin led member-elect Jared Golden by less than one percentage point on the first count. But when neither candidate received a 50 percent share of the vote, the state’s ranked-choice voting system kicked in. 

The new system, which voters have twice approved at the ballot box, lets voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no one receives a majority, the last-place finisher is eliminated and his or her votes reallocated to the candidates whom voters ranked second. The process continues until someone secures more than 50 percent of the vote.

Voters who had designated an independent candidate as their first choice and the Democrat as their second choice or third choice put Golden over the 50 percent threshold, unseating Poliquin. 

The process of retabulating each successive round of voting would be unprecedented and potentially quite lengthy. Election officials project it could take four weeks.

“A ranked-choice recount is not something that we have ever done before, so it’s a rough estimate,” a spokeswoman for the secretary of state told the Portland Press Herald.

Golden argued that his lead of more than 3,500 votes is insurmountable and that a recount would only delay his office’s ability to begin work for constituents.

“My immediate concern during this transition period is that the important constituents work currently being handled by Poliquin’s office be transferred to my staff as smoothly as possible,” Golden said in a statement. “Dragging out this process only hurts the people we were elected to serve.”

Should a recount be conducted and Poliquin failed to come out on top yet again, he would bear the cost. He paid a $5,000 deposit Monday, the Press Herald reported.

Poliquin has also mounted a legal challenge to ranked-choice voting in the U.S. District Court of Maine, arguing it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment among other claims. Oral arguments are scheduled to begin Dec. 5.

When he announced he would push forward with the suit after the election, Poliquin echoed that argument, saying that having secured a plurality in the first round of vote counting made him the rightful winner.

“It is now officially clear I won the constitutional ‘one-person, one-vote’ first-choice election on Election Day that has been used in Maine for more than 100 years,” Poliquin said.

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