Voices & Choices

History is made as member of Congress wins seat with ‘instant runoff’

History is made as member of Congress wins seat with ‘instant runoff’

And so went Maine, which declared the winner in the nation’s first congressional election determined by ranked choice voting.

Democrat Jared Golden ousted Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin for the seat representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, according to results released Thursday.

The close and contentious four-way race relied on ranked choice voting to determine its victor after neither of the major party nominees crossed the 50 percent mark required under RCV based on first choices alone. The nation watched and waited with bated breath as the ranked choice voting count kicked in to determine the winner with the broadest possible support.

The race ultimately came down to second and third choices of voters who supported either of the two independent candidates, William Hoar and Tiffany Bond. As our exit poll with the Bangor Daily News indicated, more Hoar and Bond supporters preferred Golden to Poliquin, helping Golden clinch a slim majority in the second round tally with 50.5 percent of votes to Poliquin’s 49.5 percent.

Results also show voters widely understood and took advantage of their ability to rank preferences; over 99.8 percent of voters cast valid ballots while 65 percent of those who supported Bond or Hoar also ranked at least one of the major party nominees.

The results came on the heels of another victory for ranked choice voting, with Federal District Court Judge Lance Walker denying Poliquin’s request to stop the ongoing count. The lawsuit itself remains open, though Walker’s pointed rebuttal that the court had no place to interfere in the “most sacred expression of democratic will” suggests the suit is doomed for the same failure as prior challenges to RCV in Maine.

Poliquin was a vocal antagonist of the voting system throughout his campaign, saying he would not rank other candidates and encouraging his supporters to do the same. Golden, Hoar and Bond, meanwhile, all acknowledged and strategically adjusted their campaigns to factor in ranked choice voting.

At the same time, voters continue to affirm their appreciation for the more fair and democratic voting method, with more than 60 percent of those surveyed in the exit poll indicating they wanted to keep or even expanded its use to include state races. An even larger majority, just over 62 percent, named majority rule as an important or “very important” priority for election outcomes.

The affirmation continues the growing support for ranked choice voting, which Maine voters first approved in a 2016 ballot measure and then again in the 2018 primary by an even higher margin.

Coupled with the elections for Maine’s senator and 1st Congressional District representative, the 2nd District race paints a clear picture for Maine and the country: ranked choice voting is not some far-off, futuristic reform. It’s here now and it’s here to stay.


Illustration by Mikhaila Markham

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