While we still don’t officially know who will emerge as the winner of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, one thing is already clear — ranked choice voting played such an important role that it will likely be used as model for election reform across the country.
“The first time ranked-choice voting is used in the state of Maine [and] we’ll have an instance where it will have made a difference — this is stunning,” said Larry Diamond, a political scientist at Stanford University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. “Either way it’s going to validate the logic of it, and it’s going to make for fairer elections.”
Poliquin emerged after Election Day with 46 percent of the vote, about 2,000 votes ahead of Democratic challenger Jared Golden, but four points short of winning outright under the ranked choice voting system. An exit poll found that 90 percent of the 24,000 votes that went to left-leaning Independent candidates Tiffany Bond and William Hoar ranked Golden as their second choice.
Notably, Poliquin's 2018 total was down nine whole percentage points from when he won in 2016. If Maine voters didn’t pass have a ranked choice voting measure, Poliquin's present vote total would have been the lowest share of the vote of any elected congressional candidate in 2018.
POLIQUIN HAS SUED, NOW WHAT?
As expected, Poliquin’s lawyers filed a federal lawsuit against the state Tuesday in an effort to stop ranked choice voting.
In a complaint filed in Bangor, Poliquin’s team wrote that they’re seeking to “invalidate the challenged law and vindicate Plaintiffs’ constitutional right to have federal election returns counted in accordance with traditional — and constitutional — procedures.”
Rob Richie, the CEO of the electoral reform research and advocacy organization FairVote, says that Poliquin's case doesn’t have a chance in court, because judges understand that the system does not violate the country’s “one person, one vote” standard. Under ranked choice voting, everyone gets a vote, a backup vote, and only one of those votes counts in the end. Several courts, including one in San Francisco, have already ruled that ranked-choice voting is constitutionally sound.
“It’s already been before courts and it never wins,” said Richie. “No one gets two votes counting at the same time.”
FairVote released an exit poll Monday (conducted with the Bangor Daily News) that found that a majority of Mainers support ranked choice voting, (they did vote to approve it twice, after all) and found the system fair and easy to use.
RCV, IT IS YOUR FRIEND
“Assuming Golden wins, the next Republican who runs in District 2 will have to adopt a much different attitude,” said Richie. “They’ll have to appeal to all sorts of voters to earn their 2nd choice. That would be a better lesson than essentially a sore-loser attitude that somehow the system isn’t legal.”
Republicans also won’t be able to outright contest the results of the election (should Golden win) because of Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution, which reads, “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.”
In other words, it won’t be up to the courts, it will be up to the House of Representatives — which now is controlled by Democrats — to determine its membership.
Regardless of what happens with the lawsuit, the race indicates that hardline Republican candidates like Poliquin may have to move a little closer to the center and appeal to voters beyond their base if they want to win Maine federal races under the new system.
Proponents of ranked choice voting say that the system will mitigate the effect of a minority party staying in power, and ultimately help elect candidates that better represent the majority of their constituents.
Bond, who received 6 percent of the vote, says that she hopes ranked choice voting will change the tone of politics and empower Mainers to vote for their values. “It’s the will of the voters,” she said. “It also invites a wider range of candidates and lets more people feel like they have a voice in democracy.”
REPUBLICANS, WHY ARE YOU BEING MEAN TO YOUR FRIEND RCV?
Last week, Maine GOP director Jason Savage echoed Poliquin’s “ongoing concerns” and claimed — without evidence — that fraud might be taking place during the ballot counting process. He alleged that several ballot boxes were not properly secured (they were), and suggested that a staffer working on the tabulation process could be tampering with the results in favor of Golden, because he had “liked” some of the candidate's tweets.
“We don't like the RCV system, to be sure,” said Savage. “But shouldn't we speak up about the flaws instead of just watching it silently?”
Savage didn’t respond via email when we asked him how potentially un-secured ballot boxes could impact the legitimacy of ranked-choice voting. He also declined to say why the Republican lawyers who are closely monitoring the tabulation process in Augusta haven’t raised the same concerns he has.
Poliquin's comments are troubling. RCV reflects the will of the people. Those who challenge it simply want rule by the minority. #mepolitics Also, no reason to believe votes will not be counted properly. https://t.co/uONks4Maw8— Evan Fisher (@tefesq) November 11, 2018
We think that's because deep down, Republicans know ranked choice voting is legit. In fact, Republican Party bylaws spell out the system perfectly — Republicans pick their leaders by achieving a majority by sequential elimination of the last place candidate.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap called Savage’s claims “disruptive” attempts at trying to undermine the legitimacy of the process, and said he was surprised that Maine media published his claims without evidence.
Dunlap noted that the tabulation process is secure, transparent, and in many ways running smoother than it did during the June primaries.
“I take issue with Savage constantly trying to cast a shadow over the process as if it has no integrity and it’s not legitimate,” said Dunlap. “It’s pretty much impossible for someone to tamper with the ballots.”
THE TYRANNY OF THE MINORITY
If nearly all of the Republican concerns around ranked choice voting aren’t true, what gives?
Some have speculated that the reason why Republicans are often opposed to attempts at making the electoral process more fair and representative is because they fear they are unelectable otherwise. Tom Pepinsky, a professor of government at Cornell University, has argued recently that election results are deemed democratically illegitimate unless the Republican candidate wins — a strategy that has troubling implications.
“I suspect that one consequence from the loss of electoral legitimacy will be an ever-greater tolerance for executive malfeasance, on the logic that Congressional representatives and state governments lack democratic legitimacy,” wrote Pepinsky on his personal blog last week.
This is also what Diamond is afraid of. He said he sees a pattern between GOP attempts at undermining ranked choice voting in Maine and recent instances in other races across the country where Republicans have tried to impede the process of accurately counting votes.
“It could be a political strategy, but it’s a dangerous one for democracy,” said Diamond. “I’m having trouble figuring this out nationally. Why should one party be more opposed to political reform and the neutral, blind working of the democratic process? Look at the states like Georgia and North Dakota where voter suppression is taking place, potentially impacting the Native American and African American vote. In each of those cases it’s Republican incumbents who are alleged to be intervening in the electoral process. This is eroding faith in our system without any empirical evidence. I really worry about this.”