AUGUSTA — Election officials began the painstaking task Friday of processing hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in Maine’s 2nd District as they prepare for the nation’s first ranked-choice voting tabulation to decide a federal race.

Jared Golden, left, and Bruce Poliquin

Incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin heads into the weekend with a narrow lead of roughly 2,000 votes over Democratic challenger Jared Golden, according to several unofficial estimates. But political insiders, an exit poll and even bettors suggest Poliquin’s lead could evaporate as the second and third choices of voters are added to the tallies of the two front-runners during the ranked-choice tabulation process.

If Poliquin, of Oakland, tops 50 percent of the vote in the second round of counting expected to take place next week, he will begin a third term in Congress.

If Golden reaches that magic number, he would be the first member of Congress in history to win in a ranked-choice voting runoff.

The race also included two independent candidates, Tiffany Bond of Portland and William Hoar of Southwest Harbor, who finished a distant third and fourth, respectively, collecting about 24,000 combined votes.

Attorneys and staff from the campaigns were present Friday keeping a close eye on the methodical process in order to flag any issues or irregularities.

“We are going to continue to monitor the Secretary of State’s office,” Brendan Conley, spokesman for the Poliquin campaign, said Friday as the work wound down for the day. “The congressman has a 2,000-vote lead and we are going to carry that forward,”

WORKING ON HOLIDAY

Ballots arrived Thursday and Friday via a courier service in locked boxes, using the same process that was field-tested during the June primary, in which a ranked-choice run-off led to Janet Mills capturing the Democratic nomination for governor. Mills won the gubernatorial race Tuesday and will become Maine’s first female governor.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn explain the ranked-choice voting tally process Friday at the Elkins building in Augusta. Dunlap says the winner likely won’t be declared until next week.

As of Friday afternoon, the Maine Secretary of State’s Office had received more than 75 percent of the nearly 300,000 ballots cast Tuesday or by absentee vote in 375 towns in the 2nd District. Staff plan to work Saturday and then again Monday – despite the Veterans Day holiday – to determine the final vote counts in the first round of balloting by scanning paper ballots that were hand-counted Tuesday or by downloading digital images of ballots already scanned at polling locations and loaded onto secure memory devices.

Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, said it was possible that ballots from a handful of straggler towns may not arrive in Augusta until Tuesday because of the weekend and holiday. A winner likely won’t be declared until early- to midweek.

“We don’t have a sense of how long it will take,” Dunlap said Friday morning. In June, it took more than a week to transport, process and retabulate the ballots from the statewide primary, although staff did not work through the weekend then.

“This is a different race,” Dunlap said. “This is a general election as opposed to a primary. There are quite a few more ballots to consider … and the same number of memory devices but a lot more traffic, nonetheless. So it is going to take us some time, and we ask you to be patient.”

EXIT POLL FAVORS GOLDEN

Under the ranked-choice system, voters can designate their first-, second- and third-choice candidates in the event that none of the candidates receives more than 50 percent support in the first tally. Once every ballot is processed and loaded into the system, computer algorithms will be used to eliminate the last-place candidate – Hoar in this case – and redistribute his supporters’ votes to whichever candidate they ranked second. The same process is likely to be used to reallocate the second-choice votes of people who supported Bond, who finished third in the four-person race.

Once either Poliquin or Golden achieves 50 percent plus one vote, they will be declared the winner.

Both Poliquin and Golden had roughly 46 percent of the votes as of Friday, according to unofficial results compiled by The Associated Press.

An exit poll conducted Tuesday by Fair Vote, professors at Colby College and the Bangor Daily News found nine of 10 people who voted for the independents picked Golden before Poliquin as a second choice.

If it’s accurate, that be would more than enough to secure victory for Golden.

RANKED-CHOICE CHALLENGE

It is unknown whether Poliquin or the Republican Party would challenge the results and ranked-choice voting if Poliquin loses.

John Brautigan, legal counsel for the League of Women Voters of Maine, said Friday that courts have shot down challenges to the ranked-choice voting system in other states and likely would do so here if Poliquin loses and opts to sue.

Brautigan also said that Poliquin might prefer to accept defeat. Filing a lawsuit, he said, “would look like a sore loser situation, frankly.”

The Republican Party may well decide that voters like the ranked-choice system and that in the long run, it is as likely to benefit Republicans as much as Democrats.

The race is being watched nationally, as the extent of the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House becomes clear as close races are decided.

One indication of how insiders are seeing Maine’s 2nd District race is the PredictIt political betting market, which Friday gave Golden an 88 percent chance of emerging as the victor once all the ranked-choice selections are factored in by the Secretary of State’s Office.

For now, Poliquin will head into the counting room with about 131,000 first-round votes, about 2,000 more than Golden.

What gives the Democrats hope is that there are about 24,000 people whose top pick was one of the two independent candidates in the race. Some insiders predict that about 20,000 of those 24,000 voters ranked a second choice after their top picks of independents Bond or Hoar.

If the numbers hold up, Golden needs to secure more than 55 percent of them for a victory; Poliquin needs more than 45 percent to retain his seat. Democrats, citing internal polls, say they may get as many as three more votes for each one added to Poliquin’s tally.

Bond and Hoar each said during the campaign they would rank each other and Golden ahead of Poliquin. The question is whether their supporters followed their leads.

Sun Journal Staff Writer Steve Collins can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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RRECTION: This story was updated at 9:17 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2018, to remove a reference to rules regarding recounts. Candidates may request a recount within five days after completion of ranked-choice voting tabulations, according to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office.

 

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