A federal judge struck down Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin's challenge to the state's ranked-choice voting law, after the Maine Republican narrowly lost to Democrat Jared Golden. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker, who was appointed by President Trump, disagreed with Poliquin's claim that ranked-choice voting was unconstitutional because it undermined voters' first amendment rights. Walker had previously ruled against Poliquin's suit to prevent a ranked-choice runoff from happening.
"As I indicated in my order denying Plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order, there is no dispute that the RCV Act — itself the product of a citizens' initiative involving a great deal of first amendment expression — was motivated by a desire to enable third-party and non-party candidates to participate in the political process, and to enable their supporters to express support, without producing the spoiler effect," Walker said in his decision.
Maine has approved ranked-choice voting twice via ballot measure. In this system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate obtains a majority, then the candidate with the least first-place votes gets eliminated. That candidate's second-place votes are distributed among remaining candidates. The process continues until one candidate gains a majority.
Although Poliquin held a narrow lead over Golden, he did not win the outright majority needed to prevent a runoff on election day. This pushed the tabulation of votes to voters' second or third choices to see which candidate overall gained the most votes. Taking second- and third-choice votes into account, Golden won over 50 percent of the vote.
This was the first congressional race in the nation to be decided by ranked-choice tabulation. Golden benefited from the presence of two third-party candidates in the race.
In a statement, Poliquin expressed his disagreement with ranked-choice voting, but did not say outright that he would appeal Walker's decision.
"From the beginning, I've made it clear that this constitutional voting rights issue goes far beyond one election," Poliquin said. "Maine has elected, without controversy, its public leaders for more than one hundred years under the common sense one person, one vote process on an easily read ballot."
Golden said in a statement responding to Walker's decision that he looks "forward to taking my seat in the 116th Congress."
"It is now my hope that Congressman Bruce Poliquin will work with my team to facilitate a smooth transition of power," Golden said.