‘On Nov. 6, 2018, the State of Maine conducted an election and presented voters with a ballot that asked them to rank their choices for who should be the people’s representative for Maine’s Second Congressional District.”

So begins Judge Lance Walker’s sober, logical dismantling of Bruce Poliquin’s arguments for having a federal court halt the ranked-choice vote tabulation until it rules on his lawsuit claiming ranked choice is unconstitutional. One by one, Walker took up each of Poliquin’s legal arguments and knocked them down, but his first sentence said it all: Everyone who participated in the election, from the candidates to the voters, knew the rules, and he was not likely to throw them out just because Poliquin lost.

With the court refusing to grant a delay, election officials counted the ballots Thursday in accordance with Maine’s ranked-choice voting law, and about an hour later, they declared Democrat Jared Golden the winner.

Poliquin did not concede, vowing to continue his lawsuit challenging the legality of ranked choice. That’s his right, but Walker’s very thorough decision should give him and his supporters little hope that the judge will rule in his favor.

FAMILIAR ARGUMENTS

Poliquin filed the lawsuit last week. It makes a number of claims that should be familiar to anyone who has been following the ranked-choice voting debate in Maine over the past two years.

The most prominent claim, one that Poliquin has been repeating like a metronome since Election Day, is that ranked-choice voting is “unconstitutional.” His lawsuit cites Article 1, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution, which says that “the House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.” According to Poliquin, that has “always been construed to mean” that only a plurality of votes is needed to win.

But Walker appeared to shoot that down. It’s true that declaring a plurality winner “does not offend the Constitution,” Walker wrote, but there’s nothing in there that says that is the only way to do it.

Walker also cast doubt on Poliquin’s other claims, including the ones based on the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection.

Poliquin argued that because many of his voters may not have selected a second choice on their ballots, they would not have as much influence on the outcome as those who picked an independent candidate first and Golden second. In effect, they would get to vote twice, according to Poliquin.

‘SOME IRONY’

The judge noted that there was “some irony” in Poliquin’s demand that the court protect his voters by throwing out the votes for other candidates cast by those who followed the rules in good faith.

In reality, every voter had the same opportunity to influence the outcome of the election, and by Poliquin’s own logic, his supporters also got to vote twice – both times for Poliquin. As long as he was still in the race, his votes were counted solely in his column.

Maine voters approved this law because many were tired of looking at multi-candidate fields and trying to figure out whether their favorite candidate was a spoiler or someone with a real chance to win.

This system allows them to vote with both their hearts and their heads – voting for the person they think would be best for the job without helping their least favorite to victory.

The hope is that over time, this kind of system will benefit candidates who appeal to a broad cross-section of the electorate, and make it less likely for an extreme candidate to win in the face of divided opposition.

It’s too soon to say if it will have those effects, but it’s not too soon to say that for primaries and federal races in Maine, ranked-choice voting is the law, and candidates must adapt.