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Judge ruling soon on Maine ranked race constitutionality

December 5, 2018
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FILE- In this Oct. 25, 2018, file photo, Jared Golden, the Democratic candidate for the 2nd District Congressional seat campaigns in Jay, Maine. A federal judge said Wednesday, Dec 5 he would rule next week on a bid to nullify an election result by Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whose attorneys made the case that Maine violated the U.S. Constitution when it elected a congressional candidate using a ranked voting method. Poliquin lost the election to Golden, who emerged as the winner under the new voting system. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

BANGOR, Maine (AP) — A federal judge said Wednesday he would rule next week on a bid to nullify an election result by Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whose attorneys made the case that Maine violated the U.S. Constitution when it elected a congressional candidate using a ranked voting method.

Poliquin lost the election to Democrat Jared Golden, who emerged as the winner after two trailing candidates were eliminated and votes were reassigned under the voting system, which had never before been used to decide a U.S. congressional contest.

U.S. District Judge Lance Walker announced the timeline for his decision after hearing arguments from attorneys on Wednesday. Poliquin’s case hinges on a claim by his attorneys that some 8,200 voters who marked neither Poliquin nor Golden on their ballots were disenfranchised by the second, ranked round of voting.

“Voters attempted to guess at a runoff election,” said Lee Goodman, an attorney for Poliquin. “The perfect storm did occur. It wasn’t just a weather prediction — this election was conducted in an unconstitutional manner.”

Attorneys for the state of Maine, Golden, and independent candidate Tiffany Bond made the case that voters were adequately informed about how the election would be decided. Assistant Maine Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner said Poliquin’s contention that voters were disenfranchised was based on a “bizarre interpretation” of how the election worked.

Voters were allowed to rank as many of the four candidates in the race as they wanted. Independents Bond and Will Hoar were eliminated after the first round of voting, which Poliquin won. Their votes were then reapportioned to voters’ second choices, which swung the election to Golden.

“The purpose of ranked choice voting is not to guess who’s going to be around in the second round,” Gardiner said. “It’s to express their true preferences.”

Walker, a recent appointee by President Donald Trump, made few comments during Wednesday’s court proceedings, other than briefly saying that one of Poliquin’s attorneys’ stronger arguments was that voters would’ve known who the top two candidates were in a traditional runoff election.

Poliquin wants the judge to either declare him the winner or order a second election for the 2nd Congressional District. His attorneys brought James Gimpel, a University of Maryland political scientist, as an expert witness. Gimpel became briefly animated during Wednesday’s court proceedings, pounding the stand and saying the ranked method leaves voters “clueless” about who will be in the final voting round.

The judge previously declined to stop the vote tabulations, but Poliquin’s lawsuit remains alive. A recount of the election result is also scheduled to get started on Thursday and is expected to take weeks.

A packed room watched Wednesday’s court action, which took place at U.S. District Court in Bangor. Outside court, advocates for ranked voting said they felt confident the new method would stand. Maine voters approve it via a 2016 ballot question, and it applies to federal elections in the state, but not to state elections such as the gubernatorial race.

“The people of Maine have a right to choose the way we elect our leaders,” said Cara Brown McCormick, the treasurer for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, after adjournment.

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