Maine’s ranked-choice voting could decide Congressional race

Maine used ranked-choice ballots for the first time in primaries earlier this year and is the only state to do so.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2017, left, and state Rep. Jared Golden in 2018, right.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Computer-assisted tabulations under Maine’s new voting system will be used to determine the winner of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race between Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden.

Neither candidate in the most expensive race in state history collected a majority of first-place votes under Maine’s ranked-choice voting system, which was used for the first time Tuesday in U.S. House and Senate races.

That triggers additional voting rounds in which last-place finishers in the four-way race are eliminated and the votes are reallocated.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Wednesday those calculations will take place next week. He’s not committing to a specific timeline.


Maine used ranked-choice ballots for the first time in primaries earlier this year and is the only state to do so. The system lets voters rank candidates on the ballot with provisions for candidate eliminations and additional tabulations. It’s also used in about a dozen municipalities around the country.

The ranked-choice system comes into play only if no one wins a majority of first-place votes. If there’s no majority, then the ballots will be shipped to Augusta and scanned into computers for additional tabulations.

The goal of the system is to ensure that the winning candidate has broad support by letting voters rank all of the candidates on the ballot. If a candidate is eliminated, then a voters’ second choice could come into play.

Critics fear a legal challenge if a candidate doesn’t like the outcome. A spokesman for Poliquin brushed aside the legal question.

There are legitimate concerns if the system will pass legal muster because of the one person, one vote principle, University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer said. He also said he’d heard reports that voters were confused by having separate ranked-choice ballots for federal elections and traditional ballots for state races.


‘‘We’re asking voters to vote under two different systems in the same election. It’s confusing to a lot of people,’’ he said.

The system was approved by Maine voters in 2016 after winners of nine of the 11 previous gubernatorial winners failed to garner a majority.

It was used in Maine’s statewide primary elections in June but in a twist of fate it was not used in Tuesday’s governor’s race or legislative races. That’s because of concerns that the system violates the Maine Constitution for those races.

Portland voter Robin Jameson said on Tuesday she thinks the voting method should be expanded to all races. She used it in Maine’s other Congressional race, won by Democrat Chellie Pingree.

‘‘People are unhappy and they want to shake things up,’’ she said. ‘‘I’m really happy with the ranked system.’’

Poliquin, a two-term representative, was defending his seat against Golden in a closely watched race that attracted lots of spending and heated rhetoric. The race featured saturation television ad campaigns and Poliquin and Golden calling each other liars.

Golden, a state representative and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, highlighted his military service while accusing Poliquin of trying to take away Mainers’ access to affordable health care, pledging to create jobs and promising to protect gun rights.


Poliquin, elected in 2014, touted the state’s low unemployment rate and his efforts to cut taxes and press for fair trade deals.

He called Golden ‘‘a young radical with a socialist agenda’’ in an attempt to portray him as too far left for the district, which handed an electoral vote to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.


Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed to this report.