A Democrat claimed victory Thursday for a Maine congressional seat after the first national race using “ranked-choice voting,” which gives citizens a chance to rank candidates in order of preference.
Democrat Jared F. Golden trailed in the count after election night, but no candidate had 50 percent of the vote. Under Maine’s new system, the race went into an instant runoff, with officials looking at voters’ second-choice preferences, which they were asked to mark on their original ballots.
Mr. Golden emerged victorious Thursday, though Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, did not concede and filed a legal challenge, arguing the new system is unconstitutional.
“Here in Maine we have used the constitutional one-person, one-vote system since our state’s founding in 1820,” Mr. Poliquin, a two-term lawmaker, said on a video posted to his official Facebook page. “Not only is it the law, it’s just plain common sense. The candidate who receives the most votes wins.”
Maine adopted ranked-choice voting in a 2016 referendum, and reaffirmed that in a vote earlier this year, stopping a delay attempt by Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, and the state legislature.
Under the system, voters are asked to rank candidates in order of preference.
If no candidate tops 50 percent of the vote, the other choices are considered until someone crosses the threshold.
In the initial tally, Mr. Poliquin had 123,539 votes and Mr. Golden had 122,871. Two independent candidates garnered more than 21,000 votes, denying anyone a majority.
After the ranked-choice calculations, both independents dropped to zero and Mr. Golden was declared the winner with 139,231 votes to Mr. Poliquin’s 136,326.
The victory brought the number of seats Democrats flipped in the midterm elections to 35 and means that Sen. Susan Collins will be the sole Republican from New England in Congress next year.
Mr. Golden told reporters the ranked-choice method works better than states that hold a second runoff election if no candidate clears 50 percent.
“I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m sure I am not the only one in this state that is glad we used an instant runoff system instead of holding another election,” he said. “Who in this state wants to see another campaign commercial wedged in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don’t think anyone.”
Mr. Poliquin and three other residents sued the Maine Secretary of State, arguing the ranked-choice system violates their constitutional rights.
In a video posted to Facebook on Thursday, Mr. Poliquin described it as “confusing, so unfair” and said voters in his district didn’t back it in the 2016 and 2018 referendums.
“Now it is time to find out if the system is also illegal under the U.S. Constitution to elect public officials for federal office,” he said. “If we don’t have a resolution to this basic constitutional issue, how many more election results for federal office in Maine and possibility throughout the country will be held in question?”
Rob Richie, president of FairVote, which advocates for ranked-choice elections, said Mr. Poliquin is giving off “the sore loser vibe.”
“Someone had to win, someone had to lose,” he said.
Asked about Mr. Poliquin’s legal challenge, Mr. Golden said he believes the result with stand and he’ll be in the new Congress when it convenes.
“We will begin our work on Jan. 3,” he said.