Posted by Rich Robinson on November 09, 2018 at 1:30 PM

November 9, 2018

Contact: Rich Robinson at [email protected] or 301-270-4616

Exit Survey in Maine: Golden Likely to Win 2nd Congressional District

Independent voters break heavily toward challenger in marquee swing district

TAKOMA PARK, Md. -- Maine made history on Tuesday by becoming the first state to elect a U.S. Senator and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives with ranked choice voting. In the highly competitive election from the 2nd Congressional District, data from an Election Day exit survey indicates that the likely winner will be Democrat Jared Golden over Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin.

The survey results affirm an earlier Roll Call poll which showed Golden emerging the winner when second and third choices were considered in the four-way contest.

Voter turnout in Maine this year surged past recent midterm elections, with more votes counted in the U.S. Senate election held with ranked choice voting than in the open seat election for governor with traditional single-choice voting rules. In each of the three ranked choice voting contests, candidates other than the two frontrunners earned at least seven percent of the vote.

The campaign in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District was the most expensive U.S. House race in state history, with The Associated Press reporting that the candidates and their allies spending more than $20 million. With nearly all votes counted, Rep. Poliquin and Golden are deadlocked at 46 percent of the vote, well short of a majority. Under ranked choice voting, a candidate must secure more than 50 percent of the vote to win in the first round.

Because incumbent Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree both earned more than half of voters’ first choices, they have been declared the winners of their respective races. Poliquin and Golden will have their election decided in an “instant runoff,” in which the nearly eight percent of ballots cast for the two independent candidates will be added to the totals of Poliquin and Golden, based on whichever frontrunner is ranked next on each of these voters’ ballots.

The Bangor Daily News, in partnership with Colby College political scientists Sandy Maisel and Carrie Levan and FairVote, conducted the exit survey of more than 1,100 Maine voters on Election Day in sixteen polling places around the state. The Daily News published the first of its stories on the survey today, with useful graphics.

After reweighting the sample based on demographics and the actual first choice totals, the survey projects that Golden will earn a large majority of the second choice support of independent candidates Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar. While about a quarter of independent voters may have chosen not to rank either Golden or Poliquin, the survey findings suggest Golden could earn as many as nine-in-ten of the remaining votes in winning the instant runoff. This chart shows the projected instant runoff based on the survey data:

While the projection of Golden’s victory is likely definitive, the sample of independent voters was relatively small. In actuality, more than 22,000 Mainers backed either Bond or Hoar as a first choice, and Golden’s final winning margin may be different.

Maisel, a Goldfarb Family distinguished professor of American Government at Colby College, said, “All indications from the survey’s preliminary findings are that ranked choice voting passed its test. Candidates understood what they needed to do. We have no indication that voters had any difficulty. And the process will play out, as the second and third choice votes are allocated, just as it was intended.”

"Maine’s historic implementation of ranked choice voting is doing exactly what it’s meant to: ensuring the elected candidate has the support of the majority,” said League of Women Voters of Maine President Jill Ward. “Regardless of outcome, this is a win for Maine voters."

"Both Golden and Poliquin knew that this toss-up race would come down to three factors: who got more of their supporters to the polls, who earned more votes from undecided voters, and who earned more second choice support from backers of the independent candidates,” said FairVote President and CEO Rob Richie. “Golden's apparent victory means that he and his campaign did a better job at doing what it took to earn majority support.”

Maine is not alone in upholding majority rule this month -- it is just doing so more efficiently. Mississippi will hold a runoff election to elect a U.S. Senator on Nov. 27. Overseas military voters already have cast ranked choice ballots that will count for whichever runoff candidate is ranked higher on each ballot. Georgia will also hold at least one statewide runoff in electing a new secretary of state.

“Both of those states will spend millions on their runoff, and turnout will likely decline sharply,” Richie said. “Maine will meet the goal of upholding majority rule simply by asking voters this week to indicate their backup choices.”

Most other states do not have majority requirements. This year, that has led to prominent candidates withdrawing from elections, including in gubernatorial elections in Alaska, Maine and Oregon and in the U.S. Senate election in Arizona. Votes for independent and third party candidates are greater than the margin of victory in gubernatorial elections won by Democrats in Connecticut, Kansas, Nevada and Wisconsin and by Republicans in Florida and in U.S. Senate races that Democrats have won or are leading in Arizona and West Virginia.

FairVote is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that studies elections and proposes electoral reforms. It will release additional information from this week’s exit survey and analysis of the ranked choice voting results after the Secretary of State publishes the final instant runoff totals next week.

Background on ranked choice voting in Maine
Under ranked choice voting, a candidate is elected as soon as they secure more than half the vote. Voters get to rank up to three candidates in order of choice: first, second and third.  If a candidate gets over half of all the first choices, that candidate wins. If no candidate earns a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is defeated, and those who ranked that candidate as their first choice now have their ballots go to their next choice. This process continues until a candidate wins with more than half the votes.

This year, Maine will conduct its ranked choice voting tally at the state capital in Augusta, using procedures for ballot security similar to how the state handles recounts. Towns that used optical scan machines will send memory devices with their data and hand-count communities will send their actual ballots. The Secretary of State may be able to announce final instant runoff results in the 2nd Congressional District election on Monday.

Ranked choice voting was first used in Maine in its largest city of Portland in the 2011 mayoral election. In 2016, voters approved an initiative establishing ranked choice voting for all U.S. Senate, U.S. House and state elections and primaries. After the Maine Supreme Court effectively struck down use of ranked choice voting for general elections for governor and state legislature, the legislature delayed and effectively repealed ranked choice voting in October 2017. A “people’s veto” campaign focused on restoring uses of ranked choice voting for clearly legal uses: general elections for Congress and congressional and state primaries. In June, voters in Maine used ranked choice voting in multi-candidate gubernatorial primaries and voted to approve the referendum, doubling the margin of success from the initial win in November 2016.

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap oversaw the first ranked choice voting elections this year. He said this week that “overall, voters were pleased with it” and that he expects ranked choice voting to to become a “fixture” of Maine politics.

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