In the latest rebuke to Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s (R-Maine) repeated attempts to hold onto his seat in Maine’s 2nd congressional district after losing the midterm election, a federal judge threw out his lawsuit in which the two-term congressman claimed the state’s use of ranked choice voting (RCV) was unconstitutional and unfair to voters.
Local advocacy groups applauded as U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker rejected Poliquin’s claim that the use of RCV, which has been endorsed repeatedly by Maine voters, violates Mainers’ First Amendment rights and the Voting Rights Act, as well as his argument that the system is confusing to voters.
“Mr. Poliquin and his attorneys threw everything but the kitchen sink at Ranked Choice Voting and the Court defended Maine’s law in full,” said Kyle Bailey, campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, in a statement.
The Committee also expressed hope that the success of the system in Maine will pave the way for wider use across the country.
The federal court “ruled today that the people of Maine have a right to choose the way we elect our leaders,” Cara Brown, the committee’s treasurer, said. “With this historic ruling, we predict that Ranked Choice Voting will sweep the nation.”
“Mr. Poliquin and his attorneys threw everything but the kitchen sink at Ranked Choice Voting and the Court defended Maine’s law in full.” —Kyle Bailey, Committee for Ranked Choice VotingPoliquin failed to gather more than 50 percent of first-choice vote on November 6, when, under the RCV system, voters were able to rank Poliquin, Democratic challenger Jared Golden, and independents Tiffany Bond and William Hoar with the numbers one through four instead of just selecting one candidate. Election officials then distributed Bond’s and Hoar’s supporters’ second and third choices until either the Democrat or Republican gained a majority.
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The congressman had already attempted to stop the re-tallying from happening with a lawsuit, and filed another legal challenge after Golden won the second round of voting by 3,500 votes.
“To the extent that the Plaintiffs call into question the wisdom of using RCV, they are free to do so but…such criticism falls short of constitutional impropriety,” Walker wrote in his opinion. “A majority of Maine voters have rejected that criticism and Article I [of the U.S. Constitution] does not empower this Court to second guess the considered judgment of the polity on the basis of the tautological observation that RCV may suffer from problems, as all voting systems do.”
The judge also addressed the fact that Mainers approved RCV not once but twice in the last two years; the state legislature blocked RCV’s implementation after voters supported using the system in November 2016, and a signature drive gathered enough support to include a question about RCV on ballots again in June 2018 when more than 54 percent of Maine voters again backed the measure.
In supporting RCV, Walker wrote, Mainers were “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.”
“In this way, the RCV Act actually encourages First Amendment expression, without discriminating against any voter based on viewpoint, faction or other invalid criteria,” he concluded.
Poliquin did not indicate whether he would appeal the judge’s decision, while Golden expressed hope that Poliquin would help to “facilitate a smooth transition of power for the people of the 2nd Congressional District.”
Advocates of RCV argue that the system, saving voters from feeling they must choose between only two candidates representing the country’s two major, pro-business parties, will encourage higher voter turnout as Americans understand it as a way to make their views heard on Election Day.
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