The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maine’s ranked-choice voting just kicked in, and it’s already facing a lawsuit from the congressman on the ballot

Maine pioneered ranked-choice voting in its federal elections this fall, and it could change everything about the way that candidates campaign — and win. (Video: Jenny Starrs, Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

As lawsuits fly in Georgia and Florida over provisional ballots, signature matches and county vote-counting delays, Maine’s ranked-choice voting tabulation is in the legal crosshairs, as well.

According to the Portland Press Herald, incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap on Tuesday demanding that federal election returns be counted “in accordance with traditional — and constitutional — procedures.” Three Republican voters joined his request for a permanent injunction against the state’s tabulation of ranked-choice ballots.

Poliquin held a razor-thin lead, according to the Maine Secretary of State’s office the day after the election, of about 1,000 votes or 0.2 percent, over state Rep. Jared Golden (D) after the first-choice ballots of all voters were counted. But because he did not win more than 50 percent of the votes outright, Maine’s ranked-choice voting rounds kicked into effect for the first time in U.S. history to decide the outcome of a federal race.

Ranked-choice voting is a new voting method that Maine passed by statewide referendum in 2016 and upheld in 2018. It’s often referred to as instant-runoff voting and is explained in detail in the video at the top of this post. In ranked-choice voting, voters rank their choices instead of selecting only one candidate on their ballots. If the leading candidate doesn’t win more than 50 percent of votes, then the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated, and their voters’ second-choice candidates get those votes instead. In Maine, the rounds of elimination continue until there are only two candidates with the most votes left, and then a winner is declared.

Can ranked-choice voting end ugly election battles? Maine hopes to find out.

Maine’s implementation of ranked-choice voting faced steep opposition from many Republicans in the state. Before the election, Poliquin had refused to say that he would accept the use of ranked-choice tabulation, leading many to think that the voting method would face a court challenge.

During their second debate on Oct. 16, the four candidates in Maine's 2nd Congressional District shared their ranked-choice voting plans. (Video: C-SPAN)

Two independents, Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar, garnered about 8 percent of the vote in Maine’s 2nd District on Election Day. Their voters’ second- and potentially third-choice votes will be added to Poliquin and Golden’s vote totals, in a lengthy process of shipping, scanning and certifying ballots in the Augusta State House.

The secretary of state’s office has been at work since Nov. 9 to tabulate the ranked-choice ballots and had seven more counties’ ballots to scan as of Monday evening.