ELLSWORTH — Maine voters did not have to wait long to put ranked choice voting to the test in a congressional election.
On Wednesday morning, two-term Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Oakland and Democratic challenger Jared Golden of Lewiston were virtually tied with 46 percent of the vote in the race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.
With 81 percent of precincts reporting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, roughly 50 votes separated the two candidates, with Poliquin standing at 119,965 and Golden at 119,913.
Two independent candidates, Tiffany Bond and William Hoar, have accounted for about 8 percent of the vote so far.
With no candidate projecting to receive more than 50 percent of the vote, the ranked choice voting system first used in this summer’s primary elections will come into play.
The method allows ballot-casters to rank the candidates they support in order of preference. In each round of tallying, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and the second- and third-place votes on the ballots are added in for the remaining candidates. This process repeats until one person receives 50 percent or more of the vote.
Ranked choice voting was first approved by voters in 2016 and was used in all state and congressional races in the June primary. It was, however, only applied to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House campaigns on Tuesday.
In Hancock County, Golden significantly outperformed Poliquin. With all 37 municipalities reporting, Golden had received 15,230 votes to Poliquin’s 10,697. The independent candidates, Bond and Hoar, received 1,266 and 1,022 votes, respectively.
The race in the 2nd District — the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi — has garnered an unusual amount of national attention.
Projected as a possible swing district, it became the most expensive political campaign in Maine history. More than $20 million was spent by both campaigns. During one 10-day period in mid-October, a report from the Wesleyan Media Project showed that more broadcast ads were running per hour in this district than anywhere else in the country.
The race also saw significant contributions — more than $12 million — from outside political action committees (PACs), including almost $3.5 million from the Congressional Leadership Fund in support of Poliquin and more than $2 million from Patriot Majority USA in support of Golden.
The money and advertisements were part of a campaign that had not hesitated to turn negative.
Golden, a 36-year-old Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, campaigned on universal health care and highlighted Poliquin’s vote to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Poliquin responded by calling Golden out of touch with the values of this largely rural, working class district and put a spotlight on Golden’s “D” rating from the National Rifle Association.
A loss by Poliquin would be notable, as an incumbent has not lost in the district since 1916.