Around New England

Maine Republican U.S. Rep Appeals To Fed Court, Challenges ‘Ranked-Voting’

December 20, 2018

In a potential landmark case regarding the federal legality of “ranked-voting,” U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Maine Republican, has petitioned a federal appeals court to issue an injunction before the results of his election loss in November are certified by the Maine Secretary of State and his opponent is sworn in.

Poliquin filed a brief for the injunction in the US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston after a U.S. District Court judge in Maine last week rejected his claims the state’s 2016 ranked-voting law was unconstitutional.

In November’s mid-term election for Poliquin’s U.S. House seat representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, Poliquin won the plurality of votes over his Democratic Party-opponent Jared Golden, and two other left-leaning “independent” opponents, but failed to win the majority of votes cast. With Maine’s 2016 law that provides voters the option to, while in the voting booth, rank choices (e.g., second, third, etc.) should their first choice not win a majority, Golden was declared the winner after a count of second place rankings put him in that needed majority.

The two-year-old ranked-voting law was drafted to more easily resolve cases where no candidate wins a majority and a subsequent run-off election is necessary to determine a winner. Run-offs are considered slow, cumbersome, and difficult to arrange, and can often see lower voter turnouts.

The Portland Press Herald (PPH) writes that Poliquin’s appeal to the court is three-pronged: 

• “Do voters have the right to know the final contenders in a race when casting ballots?

• “Does allowing voters to ‘shift their votes between candidates’ via ranked-choice preferences violate the ‘due process’ guarantee of the U.S. Constitution?

• “Can states ‘set aside’ the results of an election won by a plurality of votes in order to hold a ranked-choice runoff?”

Ruling against Poliquin’s initial appeal filed in US District Court, Judge Lance Walker, according to the Portland Press Herald, wrote, “[Ranked-Voting] reflects the view of a majority of the voting public in Maine that their interests may be better represented by the candidate who achieves the greatest support among those who cast votes, than by the candidate who is first ‘past the post’ in a plurality election dominated by two major parties.”

Poliquin’s lawyers told US Court of Appeals they believed Walker’s analysis was “superficial” and that Walker had “sidestepped” the specific issues they brought before the court.

The Secretary of State, who certifies election results, cannot certify the Poliquin-Golden bout while litigation is pending. Poliquin’s legal team, the PPH writes, has asked the appellate court to issue the injunction by December 21.

The Portland Press Herald reports that “[u]nless the court grants Poliquin’s request for an ’emergency injunction,’ it appears that Golden will take his seat alongside the 434 other newly elected – or re-elected – House members on Jan. 3.”



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