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U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is right for seeking clarity on who actually won, or should have won, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District election.
Poliquin, a Republican, was ahead by about 2,000 votes on Election Day, but lost by about 3,500 votes when ballots were counted using the newly instituted ranked-choice voting system.
He is now fighting the result as unconstitutional in federal court, and he’s seeking a new election.
While many think he’s spending campaign donors’ and taxpayer dollars frivolously in a doomed attempt to overturn ranked-choice voting – something Maine voters narrowly approved in 2016 – Poliquin is correct to condemn the new voting system as “chaotic” and “confusing.” And his effort to repeal and replace ranked-choice voting with the simple-majority rubric Mainers have traditionally followed is the right one.
I wouldn’t say the new system is chaotic, but it’s definitely confusing and idiotic. Opponents argue, and I agree, that it’s wrong to vote for more than one person. More importantly, many Mainers wonder how a candidate who won the plurality of votes, as Poliquin achieved on Election Day, ends up losing.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. If Democrat Rep.-elect Jared Golden had won the plurality of votes on Election Day and then lost when ballots were recounted using ranked-choice voting, Democrats would be in an uproar. They’d hold protests and sit-ins outside Poliquin’s office.
Republicans aren’t doing that, predictably and thankfully. Poliquin, who’s well within his rights to challenge the absurd result, is calmly using the legal system to challenge the result.
Not only is ranked-choice voting likely unconstitutional because it violates the one-person-one-vote concept set down by the nation’s founding documents, it also violates established norms of voting. In fact, most Maine towns, with the exception of liberal-leaning population centers, voted against it in 2016.
Yes, ranked-choice voting is used in local precincts around the country, including the leftist San Francisco, but Poliquin’s loss via a ranked-choice vote is the first for a federal office. He has standing in the eyes of the court, so now the full weight of the U.S. Constitution will be brought to bear.
Even before you start examining the constitutional merits of ranked-choice voting, we Mainers have seen it doesn’t work in practical terms. Poliquin vs. Golden has been a mess, and it’s not healthy for our state.
Even Gov.-elect Janet Mills, who is Maine’s attorney general, questioned ranked-choice voting during a Maine Supreme Judicial Court review after the 2016 vote. According to ballotpedia.com, she said ranked-choice voting likely conflicts with Maine’s Constitution, which states that election winners are decided by “a plurality of all votes returned.”
In addition, it’s not right that voters had to wait more than a week to learn who would represent them in Congress for the next two years. Ranked-choice voting requires too much time for tabulation. And there were only four candidates in the race. What if there were 10? Would that have taken a month to tabulate? The voters should know their winner by the day after an election.
Moreover, voters feel disenfranchised when they hear their vote really didn’t matter. If a voter can only stomach one candidate and declines to rank their choices, that voter feels he has less of a say compared with voters who could tolerate more than one candidate.
In Maine’s U.S. Senate race, we had to choose among independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, Republican Eric Brakey and Democrat Zak Ringelstein. I wanted neither Ringelstein nor King to serve, so my only choice was Brakey. And, on principle, his was the only oval I filled. The voting system should not require me to also pick someone, even as a second or third choice, who sports an ideology I don’t support.
Moderates, under the new rubric, have more power than straight party voters. A true-blue liberal would never consider a conservative as a second or third choice and it’s wrong for the voting system to make them do so. Moderate voters, who are less dogmatic and choose the person not the party – as the saying goes – have two or three or more choices. This is not right. A staunch liberal’s or conservative’s vote should carry as much weight as a moderate’s.
Maine voters made three big mistakes in 2016. They foolishly legalized recreational marijuana and approved a 3 percent tax hike on rich people, which was never enforced thanks to legislative and gubernatorial intervention. Ranked-choice voting, Maine voters’ third mistake two years ago, needs similar intervention, this time by federal courts.
Poliquin’s lawsuit will hopefully rectify this disenfranchising situation.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.