Maine is the first and only state to implement ranked-choice voting for federal elections. And now third-party voters’ second choice has led to a Republican losing his House seat to a Democrat.
Democrats netted their 36th House gain on Thursday as Democratic challenger Jared Golden unseated Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s 2nd District.
Golden pulled ahead thanks to Maine’s ranked-choice system of voting. Under the system, voters rank their preferred candidates under their top choice. If neither major party candidate secures the necessary 50 percent threshold for a victory, ballots cast for third-party candidates are reallocated to their second choice.
On election night, Poliquin (R) led Golden (D) by a 46.4–45.5 percent margin. Under Maine law, since Poliquin failed to reach 50 percent, ballots for independent candidates Tiffany Bond and William Hoar were reallocated to one of the two major party candidates selected by those voters as their second choice.
Poliquin sued Maine’s secretary of state earlier this week to stop the ranked-choice vote tabulation. Poliquin’s argument rests on the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting and emphasizing Maine’s history of electing officials with only a plurality of the vote.
On Wednesday, Judge Lance Walker threw out Poliquin’s request to stop the ranked-choice vote, allowing the results to become final on Thursday.
In his opinion, Judge Walker noted that “there is a certain degree of irony because the remedy Plaintiffs seek could deprive more than 20,000 voters of what they understood to be a right to be counted with respect to the contest between Representative Poliquin and Mr. Golden.”
Judge Walker continued, “at oral argument, Plaintiffs emphasized that the First Amendment entitles them to express their support for their candidate. They feel that Maine is giving other voters disproportionate expression … The RCV Act actually encourages First Amendment expression, without discriminating against any given voter.”
Maine is the only state to utilize ranked-choice voting on a statewide level. An additional seven states have ranked-choice voting for certain cities or counties, and three states have jurisdictions where ranked-choice voting has been approved but not yet implemented.
Voters passed the ranked-choice voting system in a 2016 ballot initiative.
The loss is significant for the GOP. Congressman Poliquin was the lone House Republican in the entire New England area.
With the election of Jared Golden, there remain seven contested House seats. Democrats look poised to capture four of them: in CA-39, CA-45, NY-22, and UT-4. Republicans will most likely win the other three: GA-7, NY-27, and TX-23.
If these projections hold, Democrats will have netted 40 House seats during the 2018 midterms.