A hand recount in the nation’s first ranked-choice election for a seat in the U.S. Congress began Thursday morning in Augusta.

Workers from the Maine Secretary of State’s Office gathered in a converted conference room and started the arduous task of hand counting 300,000 ballots in a race that saw Democratic challenger Jared Golden beat incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin by about 3,500 votes.

The process, if it goes until completed, could take as long as four weeks. Poliquin asked for the recount on Monday, Nov. 26 after Golden was declared the winner of the race.

The ranked-choice election, the result of a ballot box law passed by Maine voters in 2016 and affirmed in June when voters blocked its repeal, is unprecedented in U.S. history – as is the recount itself.

Poliquin, along with three Republican voters, is also suing Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap in federal court to ask a judge to either declare Poliquin the election winner based on the plurality of votes he received in the first round tabulation of the results, or to order another elections.

Maine’s ranked-choice ballot law allows voters to designate second and third choices on their ballots. Those preferences only come into play if no candidate receives majority support on the first vote tally. In such situations, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their supporters’ votes are reallocated to the candidates they ranked second.

That process continues – with candidates eliminated from the bottom up – until one candidate secures a majority, 50 percent of the votes plus one.

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