AUGUSTA — Democrat Jared Golden emerged as the winner of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race Thursday, upsetting Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a historic runoff that used ranked-choice voting.

Golden captured 50.5 percent of the vote to Poliquin’s 49.5 percent to become the first challenger to defeat an incumbent in Maine’s sprawling 2nd District in a century. The Marine Corps veteran and Lewiston lawmaker also made history by winning the nation’s first congressional election to use ranked-choice voting, enabling him to erase an initial deficit by securing the second- and third-choice votes of people who cast their ballots for two independents.

The final vote tally was 139,231 votes for Golden versus 136,326 votes for Poliquin, a margin of 2,905 votes.

However, Thursday’s ranked-choice voting results won’t be the final word on the 2nd District race, which was one of the most expensive in the country. Poliquin defiantly declared Thursday afternoon that he “won the constitutional ‘one-person, one-vote’ ” tally on Election Day and vowed to continue his lawsuit challenging the legality of ranked-choice voting.

Golden said the ongoing lawsuit in federal court will not affect his transition from the Maine Legislature to Congress. And, he said, he intends to continue focusing on the issues of his campaign – health care, higher wages, Social Security and helping “working people” – as he holds town halls and travels throughout the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi River.

“I’m going to keep visiting our docks, farms and forests so the fishermen, farmers and the loggers of this state will have a chance to make their voice heard,” Golden said Thursday while standing beside his wife, Isobel. “The people of this district deserve a representative who comes to them. They deserve someone who will seek out their wisdom, who learns from their experience – who knows them well enough to know the right vote to improve their lives and to represent them.”

‘A VICTORY FOR THE MAINE PEOPLE’

Golden, 36, is part of a wave of younger candidates – and veterans – to win election to Congress this month. The 2nd Congressional District is also the 35th district to flip from Republican to Democrat in the 2018 midterm elections. While some races remain unresolved, Democrats will control at least 230 of the House’s 435 seats starting in January.

Poliquin’s loss will leave Maine Sen. Susan Collins as the only Republican member of the New England congressional delegation, which includes 34 senators and representatives.

Golden has served as assistant majority leader in the Maine House for the past two years. He served in the Marine Corps for four years, deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan before returning to Maine to earn a degree from Bates College.

This is the first time in U.S. history that a congressional race was decided using ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to cast ballots for their favorite candidate but also rank other candidates in order of preference. Those ranked-choice votes only come into play when no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on the initial tally.

Poliquin led Golden by 2,632 votes after Election Day, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s Office. But neither Poliquin nor Golden received majority support during the initial tally, with both pulling in roughly 46 percent, while independents Tiffany Bond and William Hoar received a combined 8 percent of the vote.

That triggered Thursday’s ranked-choice runoff, which came after staffers in Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office spent several days scanning and downloading all of the nearly 290,000 ballots cast Nov. 6 in the 2nd District. The runoff only took a few minutes to complete as specialized computer software eliminated Hoar and Bond from the equation and redistributed their supporters’ votes to the candidates – either Poliquin or Golden – who they had ranked highest.

In the end, Golden gained 10,232 votes from the ranked-choice retabulations and Poliquin gained 4,695 votes. That 5,537-vote edge allowed Golden to overcome Poliquin’s 2,632-vote lead. Roughly 8,000 of the ballots cast for the independents did not designate an additional choice or did not select either of the major-party candidates.

Maine voters first approved the switch to ranked-choice voting in November 2016 and then reaffirmed that decision via a second ballot initiative in June.

“This is really a victory for the Maine people who have twice approved ranked-choice voting at the ballot box because they know our political system is broken and they want to make it better,” said Kyle Bailey with the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, which led the two ballot initiatives. “The results here today show that the majority of voters in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District preferred Jared Golden to Rep. Bruce Poliquin. And that’s the results of the election.”

JUDGE: ‘I AM NOT PERSUADED’

Poliquin was undeterred in challenging the constitutionality of the law. His campaign also could request a hand recount of the results, but did not indicate Thursday that it would do so.

“It is now officially clear I won the constitutional ‘one-person, one-vote’ first-choice election on Election Day that has been used in Maine for more than 100 years,” Poliquin said in a written statement after the results were announced. “We will proceed with our constitutional concerns about the ranked-vote algorithm.”

Earlier Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker rejected Poliquin’s request to temporarily stop the ranked-choice count while the legal case plays out.

Poliquin and three other plaintiffs argue in a lawsuit they filed Tuesday that the ranked-choice process violates the U.S. Constitution because the document “sets a plurality vote as the qualification for election” to Congress. They also argue the process prevents voters from casting an informed vote because it is unclear who the final contenders would be in a ranked-choice tabulation.

However, the U.S. Constitution does not mention plurality or ranked-choice voting, and several constitutional scholars have said the suit is unlikely to succeed. And Walker cited Maine voters’ repeated support for ranked-choice voting in his decision Thursday not to stop the tabulation.

“As it stands, the citizens of Maine have rejected the policy arguments plaintiffs advance against RCV,” Walker wrote. “Maine voters cast their ballots in reliance on the RCV system. For the reasons indicated above, I am not persuaded that the United States Constitution compels the Court to interfere with this most sacred expression of democratic will by enjoining the ballot-counting process and declaring Representative Poliquin the victor.”

Walker allowed the underlying lawsuit to proceed, with an initial hearing scheduled in early December, thereby leaving open the possibility of a legal battle over the results.

Asked about the lawsuit, Golden said the case would not stop him from taking his seat in Congress in January. He said he did not believe it was likely that the judge would find there are constitutional grounds for the case to proceed, but added he did not begrudge Poliquin for pursuing the case.

“That’s his right. That’s his decision to make and I respect it,” Golden said.

GOLDEN: ‘IT IS TIME FOR NEW LEADERS’

Golden also reaffirmed that he did not intend to support Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, in her bid to again become the speaker of the U.S. House.

“With all due respect for the hard work she has done for many years, I believe it is time for new leaders in this country,” Golden said. “I am going to stand by that and I will stand by that on the House floor.”

Golden is one many Democratic candidates who called for a change in party leadership after the election, although many House Democrats also are rallying behind Pelosi.

Poliquin’s constitutional challenge will be heard by the court, leaving some lingering uncertainty about control of the seat. Some Republican leaders, such as the Maine party’s executive director, Jason Savage, denounced the ranked-choice process on social media Thursday as a flawed and unconstitutional system that was foisted upon the 2nd District – whose voters opposed the ranked-choice ballot initiatives – by more liberal voters in southern Maine.

Maine’s secretary of state fired back at critics – including Poliquin’s campaign and his lawyers – for characterizing the process of gathering and preparing ballots for the ranked-choice tabulations as “confusing” and “chaotic.” The entire process was closely watched – and often videotaped – by attorneys from both campaigns as well as members of the media.

“To characterize this, as it has been characterized, as ‘chaotic,’ ‘confusing’ and I believe the word ‘circus’ has been used … it just demeans what the voters have done,” said Dunlap, a Democrat. “And anybody who has doubts about this process is welcome to come to these public forums and watch us do our work.”

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