AUGUSTA — Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin will head into this weekend’s ranked-choice tabulations of 2nd Congressional District votes with a narrow lead, but political insiders, an exit poll and even bettors are suggesting that lead could evaporate as the second and third choices of independent voters are added to the tallies of the two front runners.
If so, Democrat Jared Golden would serve as the district’s next member of Congress. He would be the seventh Lewiston resident to hold the seat and the first since 1960. If not, Poliquin, a two-term congressman from Oakland, will retain his seat.
The exit poll conducted Tuesday by Fair Vote, professors at Colby College and the Bangor Daily News found nine of 10 independent voters picked Golden before Poliquin.
That’s more than enough to secure victory for the Democrat if it holds up, likely by a 52-48 percent margin.
Still to be determined is whether Poliquin would challenge the results and Maine’s new ranked-choice law if the incumbent loses.
John Brautigan, legal counsel for the League of Women Voters of Maine, said on Friday that courts have shot down challenges to the voting system in other states and would almost certainly do it again if Poliquin loses and opts to sue.
Brautigan said, too, that Poliquin might prefer to accept defeat. Filing suit, he said, “would look like a sore loser situation, frankly.”
In addition, he said, the GOP may well see that voters like the ranked-choice system and that in the long run, it is as likely to benefit Republicans as much as Democrats.
While speculation runs rampant, state officials are continuing to collect ballots and memory cards in Augusta.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap has said that high-speed tabulators will be able to count paper ballots from the 40 percent of precincts that use them at the rate of 300 sheets a minute.
“So keep your fingers out of the way,” he joked on Portland radio station WGAN.
Even so, it will take a few days to make sure all of the ballots from all of the towns are included in the counts to determine the final outcome. It will likely be early next week before a winner is declared.
That might create an issue, as well, given how close the race is. State law gives candidates five business days from the election to ask for a recount — a deadline that could come before the results are known.
Meantime, many eyes are on the district as the number of races across the country that haven’t been decided continues to shrink.
One indication of how insiders are seeing it is the PredictIt political betting market, which Friday gave Golden an 88 percent chance of emerging as the victor once all of the ranked-choice selections are factored in by the Secretary of State’s Office.
What’s all but certain is that Poliquin will head into the counting room with a plurality of about 290,000 first-round votes, about 2,000 more than Golden.
What gives the Democrats hope is that about 23,000 people selected one of the two independents in the race as their preferred pick. Like all voters for that race, they had the option of ranking the rest of the field on their ballots.
It’s not known how many of the voters who initially sided with independents Tiffany Bond or Will Hoar penciled in the bubbles for their second and third choices as well. Some insiders predict about 20,000 votes will be redistributed during the next few days.
If the numbers hold up, Golden needs to secure more than 55 percent of them for a victory; Poliquin needs more than 45 percent to retain his seat. Democrats, citing internal polls, say they may get as many as three more votes for each one added to Poliquin’s tally.
Bond and Hoar each said during the campaign they would rank each other and Golden ahead of Poliquin. Whether their supporters followed that advice is unknown.
Maine election officials, including Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, left, and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, center, began counting ballots on Friday, Nov. 9, in Augusta for the 2nd Congressional District race. It will be the first congressional race in American history decided by ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank candidates by preference. (AP Photo/Marina Villeneuve)
Maine election officials began counting ballots on Friday, Nov. 9, in Augusta for the 2nd Congressional District race. It will be the first congressional race in American history decided by ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank candidates by preference. (AP Photo/Marina Villeneuve)
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn explain the ranked choice voting tally process Friday morning in the Elkins Building in Augusta as the state prepares to tally votes in the 2nd Congressional District race between U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and state Rep. Jared Golden. A difference of about 1,900 votes separate the two candidates, with Poliquin leading. Under ranked choice voting, any votes cast for the two other candidates in the race will be distributed to Poliquin and Golden depending on whether those ballots also indicated ranked preferences for Poliquin or Golden. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)
Lewiston’s congressional legacy
If Lewiston state Rep. Jared Golden ends up winning the 2nd Congressional District race, he would be the first of the seven Lewiston lawmakers to serve in Congress without first securing a law license.
Golden, who served two combat tours in the U.S. Marine Corps before attending Bates College, worked in several jobs before he won a Maine House seat in 2014.
The last Lewiston resident to serve in the U.S. House was Democrat Frank Coffin, who logged two terms before quitting in 1960 for an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign.
Coffin went on to become the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. He died in 2009 at the age of 90.
Well before Coffin, Lewiston was the hometown of Ebenezer Herrick, one of the seven original congressmen to represent Maine after it became a state in 1820. He served three terms.
Following him, William Frye of Lewiston held a House seat for a decade, from 1871 to 1880, followed immediately for another decade by Nelson Dingley Jr., an editor and lawyer from Lewiston.
Daniel McGillicuddy, the first Democrat to win from Lewiston, served for three terms starting in 1910. His 1916 defeat was the last time a 2nd District incumbent lost.
The other Lewiston representative was Republican Wallace White Jr., who beat McGillicuddy and stayed in the House until he won a U.S. Senate seat in 1930. He stayed in the Senate until 1948, when he retired, opening the door for Margaret Chase Smith to claim his seat.