ELLSWORTH — A federal judge Thursday morning rejected the claim made by U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin that ranked choice voting was unconstitutional, as well as the Republican congressman’s request to conduct a new election.
U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker ruled against the argument put forth by Poliquin’s legal team that congressional elections should be determined solely by a plurality of votes.
Walker wrote, “To the extent that the plaintiffs call into question the wisdom of using RCV, they are free to do so but for reasons that I have indicated previously and upon which I elaborate presently, such criticism falls short of constitutional impropriety.”
This marks the second time that Walker has rejected legal challenges from Poliquin, having previously denied a request to halt the tabulation of votes using the ranked choice system.
Poliquin emerged from election night with a slight lead over Democratic challenger Jared Golden, but filed the lawsuit shortly after it became apparent that the ranked choice voting process would be used to determine a winner. Ranked choice voting was used because Poliquin did not receive more than 50 percent of the vote in the initial tally.
The lawsuit contested the constitutionality of the process on several fronts, claiming that it was a violation of the Voting Rights Act, that Article I of the Constitution called strictly for a plurality of votes to win election and that ranked choice voting infringed on the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment.
Walker’s ruling dismissed entirely the arguments presented by James Gimpel, a political science professor at the University of Maryland asked by Poliquin’s legal team to serve as an expert in voting systems.
Gimpel had testified that ranked choice voting forced voters to predict who would be left standing following an initial tabulation of votes, and that many voters did not have the interest or information needed to vote in this manner.
“To put it generously, plaintiffs have not demonstrated persuasively that the inferences that they draw from the ballot data are more likely true than false,” Walker wrote. “That is, plaintiffs contend that the ballot was too confusing for the average voter of Maine’s Second Congressional District to understand, as evidenced by those ballots did not select either Mr. Golden or Mr. Poliquin as their down-ballot choices.
“There was no evidence produced to support that argument other than the conclusory testimony of Dr. Gimpel, which I have summarized and discount entirely.”
Poliquin has vociferously questioned the legality of ranked choice voting and cast doubt on the election results, but this ruling effectively ends the possibility of overturning the results of the 2018 election. Poliquin’s legal team has not stated whether or not it will appeal the ruling.
The Maine Secretary of State’s Office is still conducting a hand recount of all ballots cast.
The recount, requested by Poliquin on the last day it was possible to do so, is expected to last about a month. If it doesn’t alter Congressman-elect Golden’s lead of nearly 3,000 votes, Poliquin is expected to pay the costs of the recount.