I have to admit something: I don’t understand everything about ranked-choice voting.

It’s not the process — I get that. There’s nothing more complicated about picking your second and third choice on a ballot than there is in saying you want strawberry if they’re out of chocolate when someone’s running to the store for ice cream.

And I completely understand what happens next. It’s just a series of runoffs where you eliminate the candidate with the fewest votes after each round. If their supporters expressed a preference for a candidate who’s still in the race, that candidate gets their vote. Simple.

No, the thing I don’t understand is how righteous some people get when they adamantly insist on saying things about ranked-choice voting that just don’t make sense.

Like the claim that it lets some people vote twice.

You hear this a lot from supporters of Bruce Poliquin, who lost his bid for re-election on Nov. 6, despite holding a small lead when the votes were counted in the first round. Poliquin himself claims that his supporters got only one vote, while some of the people who backed independents Tiffany Bond and William Hoar got two votes, costing him the election.


If that had happened, he would be right to be upset. But that’s not what happened. Every voter was treated equally.

Here’s how it worked. Since there was no majority winner, the election went to a runoff, where two independent candidates were eliminated and their ballots were examined for to see if their voters expressed a preference for either of the two leading contenders.

About two-thirds of them did, and their ballots were added to the totals of Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden.

After the votes were counted, Poliquin picked up support from a little under 5,000 people, adding to his 2,000-vote lead. But Golden got more than 10,000 votes, so he gets a new office in Washington while Poliquin has a lawsuit in federal court.

If somebody had votes counted for two different candidates, doesn’t that meant they had twice as many votes as someone who only voted for one?

No. If that wasn’t your answer, let’s try this review question:


If I ate two hamburgers and you ate one hamburger and one cheeseburger, who ate more burgers?

Despite an insignificant difference in what we ate — a slice of American cheese — both of us have equal cause to consider eating less meat.

The same is true for votes. Every voter had the same opportunity to cast a ballot and every vote was counted.

If you voted for Poliquin in the first round, your vote was counted for Poliquin. After the lower-ranked votes from the eliminated candidate’s ballots were allocated, your vote for Poliquin was counted a second time. You voted twice, both times for Poliquin.

But, like a disappointed toddler, the former congressman and his supporters keep claiming that somebody else got more than them.

Poliquin made a rare public appearance to declare that he “won the constitutional ‘one person, one vote’ election,” which is nonsense, not least because the phrase “one person, one vote” isn’t even in the Constitution. But we do have the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the law. That’s a standard this vote counting system meets, whether you like it or not.


It’s easy to write off all the griping as the kind of thing that people say when their candidate loses as close election. But what’s happening here could be more sinister.

Poliquin isn’t just challenging a controversial election reform. He’s attacking the honesty and trustworthiness of the election process itself.

State Republican officials have been right behind him, sending out a constant stream of misinformation, including photos of unlocked ballot boxes (without saying that they didn’t have ballots in them) and a bizarre collection of affidavits from 1st Congressional District residents who are sure, or at least pretty sure, that they voted for Poliquin in the 2nd District race.

That would be impossible, according to the secretary of state’s office, and it didn’t happen, according to the local election clerks. But that’s not good enough for the Republican propaganda machine, which keeps trying to degrade public confidence in elections they didn’t win.

Maybe this hostility is just an acknowledgment that Republicans are afraid they can’t win statewide races unless the opposition is divided into multiple camps. Rather than trying to create an agenda that appeals to a majority of voters, they want their base to stay angry and attack the election process itself.

If that’s what’s going on, I guess I do understand the opposition to ranked-choice voting after all.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor for the Portland Press Herald. He can be contacted at: gkesich@pressherald.com

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