Rep. Bruce Poliquin said Tuesday his request for a recount in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race is “about making sure that the system works” following a historic ranked-choice election he portrayed as “chaotic” and confusing for voters.

Though clerks in several of the district’s municipalities, large and small – including Lewiston, Fort Kent, Bangor and Presque Isle – said there were long lines, none of them described chaotic scenes at their polling places on Election Day when contacted Tuesday.

“It wasn’t voter confusion at all,” said Bangor City Clerk Lisa Goodwin. “The voters knew what they were doing.”

She also said: “The long lines at the ballot box (were) due to the time it took for the ballots to be scanned.”

Poliquin, a Republican serving his second term in Washington, currently trails Democrat Jared Golden by 3,509 votes following the nation’s first use of ranked-choice voting to decide a congressional election. In addition to challenging the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in court, Poliquin on Monday formally requested a recount of the nearly 300,000 ballots cast in the 2nd District on Nov. 6.

That recount is expected to take up to four weeks to complete as teams hand-count ballots from 370 towns several times because of the ranked-choice process.

Speaking to reporters before flying back to Washington, D.C., Poliquin repeated his contention that he was the victor on Election Day because he won the plurality of votes even though ranked-choice voting requires a candidate to receive a majority before being declared the winner. The Republican said it would be irresponsible of him not to challenge Golden’s victory “now that this chaotic system has kicked in.”

“This is a very big deal to make sure every vote in Maine is accurately counted,” Poliquin said at the Portland airport. “And I think it’s time that we have real ballots counted by real people – real ballots counted by real people – instead of this black box that computes who wins and who loses.”

POLIQUIN: ‘LOTS OF CONFUSION’

“It’s time that we have real ballots counted by real people … instead of this black box that computes who wins and who loses,” Rep. Bruce Poliquin says. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

In a ranked-choice election, voters have the option to list candidates in order of preference on their ballot sheets, although ranking is not required for a ballot to count.

Voters’ second- or third-choice preferences only come into play if no candidate wins a majority on the first tally. In subsequent vote tallies, specialized computer software – Poliquin’s “black box” – then eliminates candidates from the bottom up and reallocates their supporters’ votes to the candidate they ranked second. That candidate-elimination process continues until one person wins a majority of the remaining vote pool.

Maine voters used the ranked-choice process for the first time during the June 12 primaries for governor and the 2nd Congressional District. But the system was only utilized for congressional races this month because Maine’s Constitution appears to prohibit ranked-choice voting in elections for state offices such as governor or legislative seats.

In referring to the computer software as a “black box,” Poliquin and Maine Republicans are casting an ominous shadow over a process they say lacks transparency. They also raised concerns about the revelation that more than 6,000 ballots were not initially included in the Nov. 15 ranked-choice runoff because of a scanning error. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office disclosed the discrepancy Monday, but said the inclusion of the additional ballots did not change the outcome.

Republican opponents of ranked-choice voting also have repeatedly labeled the system as “chaotic” and even circus-like.

“There’s been lots and lots of confusion,” Poliquin said. “On Election Day, you folks have all reported this and seen this. We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of folks who have come to us.”

CLERKS: NO EVIDENCE OF CHAOS

However, Poliquin’s campaign couldn’t provide any evidence of chaos or confusion on Election Day other than to point to comments on social media and the campaign’s Facebook page.

And clerks from a half-dozen larger towns in the 2nd District disagreed with – and sometimes chuckled at – Poliquin’s portrayal of the election. Media organizations in Maine did not report on any widespread problems or confusion during or immediately after the election.

Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo said she saw “very few voter questions on RCV and a lot fewer spoiled ballots (replacement ballots) than I anticipated.” She said election staff did occasionally field questions from voters concerned about whether their ballots would count if they chose to vote for only one candidate or didn’t rank all of the candidates. (The answer to both questions was yes.)

Likewise, Goodwin said her staff in Bangor also fielded numerous questions about whether voters were required to rank candidates. But the delays and lines that Poliquin cited during his news conference Tuesday were caused by the high turnout and the time it took for the ballot-reading machines to scan multiple sheets from each voter, she said.

“I would not describe ranked-choice as chaos,” Goodwin said. “It is definitely a lot more work for us.”

Clerks from some of the larger municipalities in the northern part of the 2nd District said they did not experience any chaos around ranked-choice voting on Election Day.

Kim Finnemore, a deputy city clerk in Presque Isle, said she was at the polls on Election Day and voters were not confused about the ranked-choice ballot.

“I wouldn’t say we had chaos or confusion,” Finnemore said. “We had lines of people waiting to put their ballots through the machines, but not a lot of people asking our ward clerk a bunch of questions.”

Fort Kent Town Clerk Angela Coulombe said, “It was a very busy election, but it was not chaotic.”

In the 1st District, Augusta City Clerk Roberta Fogg said while a few people needed the process explained to them, she “did not hear many complaints about ranked choice.”

“No chaos here in Waterville,” said City Clerk Patti Dubois, also in the 1st District. “The only confusion was why the governor’s race was not a ranked-choice race.”

Dunlap, a Democrat, said that while individual voters were confused about the ranked-choice process – particularly its usage in one race but not another – his office did not hear of any systemic problems with the system from clerks.

“They were just thrilled with how busy it was,” the secretary of state said.

Poliquin paid a $5,000 deposit Monday and would be required to reimburse the state for the entire cost of the hand recount if Golden is declared the winner at the end of the process. It was unclear Tuesday whether Poliquin could use campaign funds to pay for the recount.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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