Maine House Race First in the Nation to be Decided by Ranked Choice Voting; Exit Polls Indicate Flip

MAINE – The race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District will be the first in the nation to be decided by ranked choice voting.

Republican US Rep. Bruce Poliquin has a slight lead over Democrat Jared Golden, but was not able to secure majority support in the first round of voting, meaning the election will come down to the second or third choices of voters who cast a ballot for one or both independent candidates in the race.

Maine was the first state in the nation to use ranked choice voting for US House and US Senate general elections. Incumbent US Rep. Chellie Pingree won re-election in a landslide victory in the 1st Congressional District, as did US Senator Angus King.

The race in the 2nd Congressional District, however, is a deadlock until the instant and automatic runoffs under ranked choice voting determine which candidate — Poliquin or Golden — will cross the 50% threshold.

And it looks like the Democrats could flip one more seat in the 2018 midterms.

An exit survey conducted by the Bangor Daily News, in partnership with Colby College political scientists Sandy Maisel and Carrie Levan and the national reform group FairVote, shows that Jared Golden will likely overtake the incumbent’s 0.7 lead in the second or third rounds of runoff.

An earlier Roll Call poll also indicated that Golden would emerge the winner, as the race came down to independent, third party, and dissatisfied major party voters. But we will see when the ranked choice votes are fully tabulated.

“Both Golden and Poliquin knew that this toss-up race would come down to three factors: who got more of their supporters to the polls, who earned more votes from undecided voters, and who earned more second choice support from backers of the independent candidates,” said FairVote President and CEO Rob Richie. “Golden’s apparent victory means that he and his campaign did a better job at doing what it took to earn majority support.”

Ranked choice voting was approved by voters in November 2016 for all statewide, legislative, and non-presidential federal elections. However, it was only used for US House and US Senate election on November 6 because of a  non-binding advisory opinion by the Maine Supreme Court and the actions of state lawmakers.

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Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference. The first choices are counted, and if no candidate gets over 50% of the vote, a second round of voting is held. The last place candidate is eliminated and their votes are dispersed among the remaining candidates based on their voters’ second choice.

The process continues like this until a candidate has over 50% of the vote.

Maine saw a surge in voters in the 2018 elections compared to previous midterms, much like many states across the country. Interesting to note, though, is that more people voted in the US Senate race that Angus King was expected to win easily and used ranked choice voting than the open seat for governor.

The results of these elections will certainly have pundits, politicos, political scientists, and reformers examining the impact ranked choice voting has on elections over the choose-one voting method that was used in state elections and in most elections in the US.

Stay tuned for more updates on the impact ranked choice voting is having in Maine.