Federal Judge Rules Ranked Choice Voting Constitutional in Maine
Update 12/14/18: US Rep. Bruce Poliquin calls for an end to the recount, but says he may still appeal the court's decision. Says there continue to be unanswered questions that have, in fact, been answered.
BANGOR, MAINE - Federal Judge Lance Walker upheld the constitutionality of ranked choice voting in Maine Thursday. The only thing that remains in the historic election in Maine's 2nd Congressional District is a hand recount that could conclude before Christmas.
In his decision, Judge Walker wrote:
“Plaintiffs argue that the force of history calls for the Court to interpret Article I as requiring a plurality or ‘first-past-the-post’ standard for deciding election results. There is no textual support for this argument and a great deal of historical support to undermine it… it is no accident that Article I does not set forth a comprehensive mandate for running federal elections, let alone dictate the plurality standard.”
Walker also dismissed claims the Voting Rights Act applied tot he case, and arguments that ranked choice voting violated the First or Fourteenth Amendments.
In fact. the judge said ranked choice voting “actually encourages First Amendment expression.”
The legal challenge to ranked choice voting was filed by US Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who lost the first House race to be decided by ranked choice voting to Democrat Jared Golden. Poliquin and his legal team made a number of claims against ranked choice voting, including that voters get two votes, it creates a "faux majority," and that it is "less orderly and reliable."
Walker heard arguments on Wednesday, December 5, but had already given a strong indication that he would uphold ranked choice voting when he denied a temporary restraining order request to stop the ranked choice tabulation:
“In fact, it appears that both majority and plurality standards have historical antecedents in American politics. In short, on the current showing, it appears equally plausible that Article I, Section 2, when read in conjunction with Article I, Section 4, affords the states sufficient leeway to experiment with the election process in the manner that is presently under consideration.”
“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.
The Constitution gives state and local governments broad discretion to determine how elections will be conducted within their jurisdiction. New, alternative systems can be adopted as long as the system does not violate the rights of voters or other provisions of the US constitution.
Maine voters voted twice for ranked choice voting, the most recent vote conducted in June when nearly 50,000 more voters voted on the ranked choice measure over the gubernatorial primary elections for the Republican and Democratic Parties combined.
To date, no federal court has ruled ranked choice voting unconstitutional. It's use in San Francisco was upheld in 2011 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, Judge Walker has given advocates of the reform another legal victory.
Ranked choice voting was used for the first time in US House and Senate races in Maine's 2018 midterm elections. Due to a non-binding advisory opinion by the Maine Supreme Court and actions by the legislature, the new voting method can only be used in statewide and legislative primary elections until a constitutional remedy is offered by the legislature and approved by voters.
Read Judge Walker's full decision: