Recount sought in 1st ranked balloting in congressional race

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin requested a recount Monday in a historic election that his Democratic opponent Jared Golden won thanks to ranked balloting, setting up a lengthy hand count of ballots.

Election officials anticipate the recount will take about a month, causing a race to ensure the process is completed before the new Congress is seated Jan. 3.

The recount will be more laborious under Maine’s new way of voting because all candidates were ranked on ballots, exponentially increasing the effort, said Kristen Schulze Muszynski, spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

“It’s far more complex than a typical recount,” she said.

Poliquin had the most first-round votes, but his lead didn’t hold up after an additional round under Maine’s ranked-choice voting.

Golden emerged victorious after two trailing candidates were eliminated and their supporters’ second-choices were reallocated with assistance from a proprietary computer algorithm. With the votes reassigned, Golden won the election by about 3,500 votes , based on updated tallies from election officials.

Poliquin’s campaign raised questions about the transparency of the computerized algorithm and said Maine voters were confused and concerned that their votes didn’t count “due to computer-engineered rank voting.”

“Therefore, today, we are proceeding with a traditional ballot recount conducted by real people,” said spokesman Brendan Conley.

Golden said Poliquin was within his right to request a recount, but said he’s unlikely to succeed. “Dragging this process out only hurts the people we were elected to serve,” Golden said in a statement.

After the election, Poliquin claimed he won “the constitutional ‘one-person, one-vote’ first-choice election” on Election Day. He filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have the new voting system declared unconstitutional.

Golden declared himself the “majority consensus winner” thanks to the new election system used for the first time in U.S. House and Senate races.

Maine voters approved the voting system in 2016.

The ranked-choice system lets voters rank all candidates from first to last on the ballot. If no one gets a majority, then last-place candidates are eliminated and their second-place votes are reallocated.

The goal, supporters say, is to eliminate the impact of spoiler candidates and ensure that the winner collects a majority of the vote.

In this case, additional voting tabulations were triggered because Poliquin and Golden both collected 46 percent of first-place votes, meaning neither candidate collected a majority of the vote.

Poliquin has several legal options if he comes up short in the recount process overseen by Democratic Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

He could let his lawsuit play out in U.S. District Court, seek to bypass First Circuit altogether to go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, or ask the U.S. House of Representatives to seat him instead of Golden.

U.S. District Judge Lance Walker, who declined Poliquin’s request to stop the tabulations, agreed to hear more arguments next week .

Because of the margin of victory, Poliquin had to pay a $5,000 deposit in requesting the recount. He’ll get it back if he’s declared winner.