With Jared Golden declared the winner in Maine’s Second Congressional District in the first U.S. House race decided by ranked choice voting, an advocate for election integrity is warning that Republican Bruce Poliquin’s intent to continue to pursue a lawsuit to undo the election may, in the long run, erode Mainers’ faith in democracy.
On Thursday, a federal judge dismissed Poliquin’s claim that ranked choice voting is unconstitutional. But an advocate for greater voter participation and election integrity warns that, going forward, Poliquin’s ongoing attempt to challenge the legitimacy of the election is potentially harmful to Mainers’ faith in their elections and muddies the waters for necessary election reforms and responding to real voter disenfranchisement.
“This distraction of calling into question the integrity of the process makes it harder to have conversations about the real issues at stake, and the kind of reforms that should go into place,” said Anna Kellar, director of the non-partisan Maine Citizens for Clean Elections and League of Women Voters of Maine.
Kellar was among those who observed the ranked-choice tabulations from the Second District race in Augusta on Wednesday. She and other advocates with MCCE maintain that there is no merit to Poliquin’s lawsuit attempting to halt the counting of second-choice votes, pointing to the fact that ranked choice voting has been upheld four times by Maine’s courts and decided twice by Maine voters. Poliquin said in a statement Thursday that he would “proceed with our constitutional concerns about the rank vote algorithm.”
“Trying to argue the importance of one person, one vote, then argue that the counting of votes should be stopped, is a little bit hypocritical,” Kellar said.
She added, “There is a difference between the kind of scrutiny that ensures people are confident that their vote has been counted and making claims about fraud or impugning the integrity of election officials. Those sort of things really decrease people’s trust in the process. It makes it harder to separate out real problems when you have this heightened atmosphere of crying wolf.”
A growing tactic of delegitimizing elections
In the midterm elections, President Donald Trump has alleged that votes tabulated in Florida and Arizona after election day were fraudulent — an unfounded allegation echoed repeatedly by Florida Governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott and Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee Cory Gardner.
A few days before election day, Georgia Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp used his office to allege without evidence that Democrats were under investigation for allegedly trying to hack the state’s voter registration files.
And here in Maine, the state’s Republican Party, prior to Thursday’s election results, backed Poliquin in attempting to delegitimize the results in the Second District, calling into question an election official’s social media activity. Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap dismissed the move as an attempt to “cast doubt on this process.”
In Waterville, Mayor Nick Isgro is alleging that nearly 200 ballots were illegally cast in the city since they were made by voters who listed a P.O. box as their address. Isgro opposes a city ordinance banning plastic bags, which was approved by just 148 votes.
Slate writer Jamelle Bouie described these baseless allegations of voter fraud as a new normal in U.S. politics wherein “a Trumpified Republican Party reacts to potential defeat in key races by delegitimizing the elections themselves.”
“Both parties have a sense of who their voters are and who they want to see have every opportunity to be counted, or not counted,” said Kellar. “There’s less trust in the media, as there’s less trust in political parties, as there’s less trust in public officials. We need to have trust in the results and in the people who are doing the counting.”
Kellar finds hope in the fact that in every election where pro-democracy reforms were on the ballot, those reforms won, often by large numbers. In ballot initiatives in Florida, Arkansas and North Carolina, voters elected to make voter registration easier, restrict partisan gerrymandering and re-enfranchise people with past felony convictions.
“It’s huge,” Kellar said. “These are the things that have to go hand in hand in expanding voting rights and expanding everyone’s access to voting. I think ranked choice voting is part of that. I think campaign finance reform is also a part.”
The appetite for pro-democracy reforms is strong, Kellar said, and an opportunity for non-partisanship. “I do think there is common ground, maybe not among political leaders, but with the American public on how we can actually make our democracy work better,” she said.
(Editor’s note: This article was updated to include the Second District election results and the federal court decision dismissing Poliquin’s claim that ranked choice voting is unconstitutional.)
(Photo: Ballots collected from Maine’s Second Congressional District transported to Augusta for tabulation.)