It’s hard to imagine any politician boosting the integrity of the election process while simultaneously trying so hard to damage it.

But 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin is managing to pull off this feat.

His federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the Nov. 6 election he lost to Democrat Jared Golden asks a most important question about the ranked-choice voting system, one that’s best resolved in court before another round of elections.

But at the same time, Poliquin has climbed up on a soapbox in a way we have never seen from the media-adverse congressman. He’s been holding news conferences that try to turn a new but simple vote-counting system into a vast anti-Poliquin conspiracy that employs a nefarious “black box” and “artificial intelligence” to subvert the people’s will.

We expect that Poliquin will lose his case, but he was right to bring this challenge, because unsubstantiated claims about the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting will be a distraction until the questions are decided in court.

But it does no good for Maine to have a member of Congress claim — without evidence — that our elections are rigged. People need to accept that elections are honest, and that starts with the candidates who lose. It’s time for Poliquin to let his lawyers do the talking and go back to wherever he’s been hiding from cameras and reporters since taking office four years ago.

Poliquin’s suit asks whether the U.S. Constitution permits a multi-round vote counting system in which a candidate can lose the election even if they finished the first round in first place. That happened to Poliquin, and the resolution of his claim will go a long way to determine if this system can go forward.

Ranked-choice voting is sometimes called instant runoff voting and has the same function in elections with more than two candidates. Instead of picking a single candidate from the field, voters have the option ranking the other candidates with votes that are counted only if their top choice can’t win.

In each round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and if the people who voted for them chose to express a preference for another contender, that vote is added to the candidate’s column. It’s exactly what would happen in runoff, without having to hold another election.

Other states have runoffs where there is a second election between two contenders if there was no majority winner in the first round, and they pass constitutional muster.

Is ranked-choice voting unconstitutional? Not likely, if you read Judge Lance Walker’s decision that refused to halt the vote counting while Poliquin was still ahead. The judge said that Poliquin’s arguments had been made before the public voted to approve the system by referendum, not once but twice.

Still, it’s a legitimate question – one that most observers assumed would ultimately be decided in a courtroom.

But Poliquin is not only suing, but also demanding a recount of every ballot and trying to stir up public panic about the honesty of Maine’s elections. The megaphone of the Maine Republican Party is amplifying Poliquin’s false alarms, claiming that his voters were confused and frightened by a ballot that asked whether they wanted to express a second choice.

While the lawsuit seeks to resolve questions and create a predictable path forward, Poliquin’s hysterical squawking about “artificial intelligence” and a secret “algorithm” just sows chaos and distrust.

Poliquin is a sophisticated, Harvard-trained investment banker, and he knows that there is no “algorithm” at work, just simple arithmetic.

He has a right to make sure that the election was honest, but the people of Maine also have rights, chief among them that Poliquin won’t use his position of trust to poison public confidence in the whole system just because he may have lost the election.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.