AUGUSTA — Ranked-choice voting remains a top target of Republicans from Augusta to Washington.

The GOP leader in the U.S. House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, cited the defeat of U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a ranked-choice race last year as a prime example of the way Democrats are allegedly manipulating elections “because they can’t win in a fair fight.”

It is an argument a number of Maine Republicans have also made in their unsuccessful quests to stamp out the voting method approved by Mainers in a 2016 referendum and endorsed at the polls again in 2018.

They have a handful of bills that would stymie or kill ranked-choice voting in the state in the unlikely event they are approved by a Legislature controlled by Democrats. Democrats, taking the opposite stance, have a couple of proposals on the table that would extend ranked-choice voting in Maine.

The new system of voting in the Pine Tree State is only allowed in federal elections and primaries for state offices. A Maine Supreme Judicial Court advisory opinion in 2017 ruled out the method for general elections for state offices because of a provision in the state’s constitution.

The first ranked-choice elections for state and federal office occurred in last June’s primaries, where the change did not impact the winner. But in November, Poliquin, a Republican who had served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, lost his seat after ranked-choice results pushed him into second place once the third- and fourth-place finishers were eliminated from contention.

“You know what they did in Maine?” McCarthy asked Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business on Monday. “In Maine, they changed how you vote in federal offices.”

During a television appearance Monday on Fox Business’ morning show with Maria Bartiromo, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California criticized ranked-choice voting in Maine.

He said Poliquin won his bid for re-election in the 2nd District race, “but at the end of the day he lost because he didn’t get to 50 percent, so the person who came in fourth, their number dropped off and whoever they voted for second got the extra vote.”

As a result, McCarthy said, “there’s a member of Congress sitting today who came in second,” but because Jared Golden is a Democrat, “he got to go through.”

“Wow,” Bartiromo said.

Golden, however, did not “go through” to victory because he is a Democrat. He won because he had more support among voters who picked one of two independents in the first round of voting.

McCarthy did not name Golden during his television appearance, despite clashing with him on the floor of the House a few weeks ago. Political leaders often shun mention of opponents to avoid giving them publicity.

Poliquin lost a federal lawsuit that sought to overturn Golden’s victory but remains a critic of the system used in the election. He has not ruled out a rematch in 2020.

In Augusta, GOP legislators are trying to undermine or toss out ranked-choice voting in future races. Democrats generally remain fans of it.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is pushing a bill that would use the new voting method for presidential primaries and elections, a step that could have an impact on next year’s choice of candidates for the nation’s highest office.

A proposal by Rep. Joe Stetkis, R-Canaan, would repeal ranked-choice voting. It is slated for a public hearing April 10 before the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs.

Another measure, from Rep. Chris Johansen, R-Monticello, calls for a state constitutional amendment to require plurality voting in all of Maine’s elections for state or federal office..

A bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Bradstreet, R-Vassalboro, calls for allowing voters in each congressional district to decide what method they prefer for U.S. House elections. Under his measure, they would pick plurality voting or ranked-choice voting in a referendum.

Another proposal by Rep. Dustin White, R-Ashburn, would impose a moratorium on ranked-choice elections until 2023 to provide time for supporters to get a state constitutional amendment enacted if they want the method to be used in Maine. If they fail, ranked-choice voting would vanish.

But Democratic Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, has an alternative idea for a constitutional amendment. His plan would require candidates for governor, state senator and state representative “be elected by a majority of the votes cast for that office,” a change that would lock ranked-choice voting into Maine law.

Lawmakers will be sorting through the proposals in the coming weeks.

Ranked-choice voting is not a partisan system. Long used in some foreign countries, including Australia, it lets voters rank candidates for each office in order of preference.

As long as none has a majority, the one with the least is dropped from the tally and those votes are redistributed to voters’ second choice.

The process continues until someone has a majority or there are no more candidates left to drop.

Though the process helped Golden win in November — because those backing independent congressional hopefuls Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar preferred Golden by more than two-to-one — there is nothing intrinsic about Democrats doing better under a ranked-choice system.

If nothing changes, the next use of ranked-choice voting in Maine would be any U.S. Senate or congressional primaries in 2020.

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