What happens next as Maine’s 2nd District race heads to the next round of ranked-choice voting
Good morning from Augusta. Maine is entering a milestone in its first-in-the-nation experiment with ranked-choice voting, which will apply to the race between U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden in the 2nd Congressional District.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Wednesday that the race would proceed to a ranked-choice count. With nearly 92 percent of precincts reporting to the Bangor Daily News this morning, Poliquin had 46.1 percent of first-round votes to 45.8 percent for Golden — a difference of 702 votes. Just over 8 percent of votes went to the left-leaning independents in the race.
Ballot collection across the vast district will begin today and a result is expected next week. But a legal challenge is looking likely to come if Poliquin’s narrow lead is erased after the independents’ vote are re-distributed. Gov. Paul LePage urged that challenge today.
Here’s how the ranked-choice process — and a possible recount — would work. Private couriers hired by Dunlap’s office will be picking up memory sticks holding ballot information and paper ballots from towns that still count by hand across the 2nd District on Thursday.
The processing and tabulation of ballots — at the state campus on Augusta’s east side — is scheduled to begin on Friday. Tabulation is scheduled to at least run through the weekend and Monday’s Veterans Day holiday until it’s complete, which will likely be sometime next week.
On Wednesday, Poliquin’s campaign said that it expected him to win in the first round by a margin of 2,100 votes. That could still portend a tight margin after ranked-choice counting and a recount could come. It would probably have to happen before a legal challenge.
That would be a grueling hand-count process governed by rules from Dunlap’s office. Ballots would first be sorted by first-choice votes, which would be counted again and recorded. Then, the ballots where neither Poliquin nor Golden were selected as first choices would be counted and recorded and municipal totals would be aggregated.
Dunlap spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski said since this has never happened in Maine, it’s hard to know how long it would take, but it could be roughly two weeks because of the number of towns in the 2nd District and the added level of detail that ranked-choice voting requires.
Golden has said that he would accept the results of a ranked-choice election, while Poliquin hasn’t answered questions about that. The use of the voting method hasn’t gone through a court test applicable to a general election yet, though the state’s high court and a federal court let it proceed in the June primaries.
LePage said Poliquin should challenge the election if he wins in the first round, but loses in the ranked-choice count. The Republican governor urged the Republican incumbent to challenge Maine’s ranked-choice voting system in court if a ranked ballot retabulation swings the outcome to Golden, a Democrat, saying he would win there because ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional.
Courts, however, haven’t weighed in on that question. An advisory opinion from Maine’s high court last year said it was unconstitutional for state general elections. It didn’t weigh in on federal elections.
LePage plays pundit on GOP losses
LePage believes more Democrats were inspired to vote than Republicans on Election Day. That was in part because Republican Shawn Moody’s campaign — run by many of the governor’s allies and Lauren LePage, the governor’s daughter — “lacked passion, it lacked vigor. One thing I can do is get a crowd going,” he said.
Plus, Republican voters stayed home because they were “totally disgusted” by how Democrats handled the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said Thursday morning on WGAN radio. “You’ve got to stand for something,” LePage said. “I keep trying to tell that to the Republicans. For eight years, they’ve seen me. I’m consistent, I don’t change my ideology.”
In his analysis of Tuesday’s results, LePage also blamed “complacency”and lower turnout from voters who had backed him. “My reaction is that Republicans and independents stayed home.” he said. He based his “complacency” observation on the fact that “everyone is dumb, fat and happy.” Despite early indications that overall voter turnout was strong, LePage said that Moody and Republican legislative candidates failed to inspire independents and Republicans who helped elect him in 2010 and 2014 to get out and vote this year.
LePage was fairly tame when asked about Governor-elect Janet Mills, with whom he has sparred for years, saying, “I wish her well. I hope she comes to the middle a little bit more and doesn’t spend as heavy as she says she’s going to. If she succeeds, the state of Maine succeeds.”
Mapping Maine’s partisan divide
The path to victory for Maine’s next governor hugged the coast. This map showing town-by-town results for Tuesday’s gubernatorial election, in which Mills defeated Moody and independent Terry Hayes offers a stark color-coded picture of the state’s political split personality.
Mills claimed solid support from voters in southern coastal communities — mostly in the Maine’s more liberal 1st Congressional District — but she had only spotty support inland. With a few exceptions, that support withered in western and northern communities. Moody handily won in the more rural towns in western, central and northern Maine. But that support was not enough to offset Mills’ distinct advantage along the coast.
You can scroll around the map to see raw vote totals reported by each city or town, or click here for full election results. Some precincts — mostly where votes are counted by hand or where tabulation machines had problems — still had not reported vote counts as of 7 a.m. Thursday. The BDN will continue to update its results page as those stragglers weigh in. All vote counts are unofficial until certified by the secretary of state.
Collins: Probe must go on
Maine’s senior senator said the U.S. attorney general’s abrupt departure should not derail an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Now that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been forced out by President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is most concerned about the threat his departure poses to the continuance of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference. “Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference — regardless of who is AG,” Collins said in a tweet. “I’m concerned Rod Rosenstein will no longer be overseeing the probe.” Mainers from Portland to Bar Harbor were expected Thursday to join others around the country in protesting Trump’s decision.
— Maine’s governor-elect — who also happens to be the attorney general — showed up at a court hearing for a lawsuit against the person she will replace. Mills, whose office declined to represent LePage and the Department of Health and Human Services in a suit by advocates seeking to force the state to implement voter-approved Medicaid expansion, appeared in a Portland courtroom Wednesday morning to listen to arguments. Mills reiterated her vow to implement the expansion as soon as she takes office. The legal wrangling over expansion will continue, perhaps into Mills’ tenure as governor.
— If you are a glutton for punishment — or political rhetoric — have we got a deal for you. The BDN’s Seth Koenig collected Tuesday night’s victory and concession speeches and put them here. Whip up a batch of popcorn and watch them all here.
— Some really tight county races could go to recounts. Candidates in the county treasurer elections in Penobscot and Waldo counties were separated by less than 1 percentage point after most of the ballots were tabulated. Similarly close races exist for probate judge in Hancock County and in one race for a seat on the Penobscot County Commission. Pending results from a few precincts in some races and consideration by affected candidates, these close contests could trigger recounts.
— A historically Republican county took a surprisingly leftward swing on election night. When Democrat Joe Wombacher unseated four-term Republican incumbent Percy “Joe” Brown for one of three seats on the Hancock County Commission, it gave Democrats what is believed to be their first-ever majority on the commission.
— Voters in one Nevada district elected a dead pimp to their legislature. Twenty-one days after porn star Ron Jeremy found him dead at the Love Ranch brothel, Republican Dennis Hof easily won a seat on the Nevada State Assembly. Read all about it here. And here is a soundtrack.
We should have seen it coming.
When a Republican lost to a Democrat in Tuesday night’s governor’s race, it continued a Blaine House-cleaning tradition that dates to 1954. Since then, Maine voters have always chosen to replace a departing governor with someone from a different political party — or in two cases with someone from no political party.
In 1954, Democrat Edmund Muskie broke an 18-year Republican hold on the Blaine House by winning the governorship. Since then, no Democrat or Republican has been elected to replace a member of his or her party as Maine’s chief executive. Republican Robert Haskell succeeded Muskie four years later and the pendulum has been swinging ever since. When Mills takes over for LePage in early January. It will mark another switchback of Maine’s partisan pendulum.
Maine’s penchant for redecorating its executive office with a fresh party look mirrors that of the nation. U.S. voters also demonstrate a strong inclination to turn over the keys to a different party every eight years. The last time a member of the same party succeeded a termed-out member of the same party was when Republican George W. Bush won the right to replace Ronald Reagan in 1988. He lasted just one term. Before that, you have to go back to 1928, when Republican Herbert Hoover succeeded Calvin Coolidge. Four years later, Hoover met the same fate as Bush.
So are we fickle or the last, best hope for checks and balances in a democratic republic? Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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