Maine GOP rep sues to stop counting 'ranked choice' ballots

Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin has filed suit in federal court looking to stop the secretary of state from counting "ranked choice" ballots.

Polquin won a plurality of votes on election day. But Maine's quirky federal electoral system forces the state to employ a system where a computer algorithm determines who gets votes from the minor candidates in order for one candidate to receive 50% of the vote.

Ballotpedia explains:

In a single-winner ranked-choice voting system, voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. Votes cast for the eliminated candidate are transferred to second-preference choices (if a ballot lists only the eliminated candidate, the vote is considered exhausted and is removed from future tallies). A new tally is conducted to determine whether any remaining candidate has won a majority of the remaining votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority. This system is sometimes referred to as an instant-runoff system.

So Poliquin's chances for victory have been reduced considerably, despite the fact that he won the most votes on and before election day.

Portland Press Herald:

Poliquin and three other plaintiffs are asking a federal judge in Bangor to block Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap from proceeding with the nation’s first ranked-choice voting run-off in a congressional race. Neither Poliquin nor Golden secured a majority of the vote in the first count of ballots in the Nov. 6 election, thereby pushing the tabulation to voters’ second-choice candidates – or perhaps third-choice – until one of the front-runners crests the 50 percent threshold.

U.S. District Judge Lance Walker scheduled a hearing for 9 a.m. Wednesday on a request from Poliquin’s attorneys for a temporary restraining order that would force Dunlap to stop the process until the case is settled. Walker had scheduled an initial hearing in the case for Dec. 9, but the retabulation of votes could happen as soon as Wednesday unless the court intervenes.

Dunlap, a Democrat, said ballot processing will continue until he hears otherwise from the court. “If a judge tells us to stop, we’ll stop. … I think we have to obey the law, and the law says that we proceed,” Dunlap said Tuesday afternoon.

Voters have approved ranked-choice voting twice at the ballot box, making Maine the first state to use the process in statewide primary and federal elections.

Poliquin’s lawsuit claims the use of ranked-choice voting violates the U.S. Constitution because the document “sets a plurality vote as the qualification for election” to Congress. However, the U.S. Constitution does not mention plurality or ranked-choice voting, and several constitutional scholars said Tuesday that the lawsuit is not likely to prevent the state from moving forward with the run-off.

This is unnecessarily confusing, even if ranked choice voting is declared constitutional. The method was actually adopted in 2016 statewide, but the state supreme court ruled that the system violated the Maine Constitution.

But federal elections for senator and congressmen were exempt. Hence, Poliquin's suit to stop the counting.

So, are Maine voters voting for the man or the office? By applying "second choice" ballots to another candidate's totals, the idea that someone's vote should count despite the fact the candidate they voted for was not their first preference is weird. 

I fail to see a problem with a winner receiving only a plurality of votes instead of an outright majority. This is what representative democracy is all about; the winner represents all voters, not just their supporters. But I guess that concept is too difficult for some voters to grasp. 

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