AUGUSTA — Democrat Jared Golden learned Thursday — nine days after Election Day — that he won Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race, after a historic tabulation of ballots using Maine’s new ranked-choice voting law.

Golden, 36, of Lewiston said he was “humbled and honored” to emerge the victor in a contest in which Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has already filed a lawsuit to try to convince a federal court the new voting system is unconstitutional.

Shortly after noon, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap declared Golden the winner by a little less than 3,000 votes out of more than 283,000 cast, a margin large enough to make a recount questionable. He grabbed the top spot because 69 percent of the second-choice ballots that ranked the candidates picked him over the two-term lawmaker.

In a brief statement Thursday, Poliquin insisted he was the winner in the “constitutional ‘one-person, one-vote’ first choice election on Election Day that has been used in Maine for more than 100 years.”

“We will proceed with our constitutional concerns about the ranked-vote algorithm,” Poliquin said.

The federal judge in Bangor who is hearing the lawsuit filed by Poliquin refused Thursday morning to go along with Poliquin’s request to stop Dunlap’s count. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker cited Maine voters’ repeated support for ranked-choice voting in his ruling.

“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 also indicated he thinks it is likely that states have “sufficient leeway to experiment with the election process” under the Constitution to allow for ranked-choice voting. Both sides have more time to make their best case for and against it before he issues a ruling.

Golden responded later in the day, “It does not look like the judge is likely to find there are constitutional grounds for the case to really proceed.”

For Golden’s parents, who run a small golf course in Leeds, the final count was everything they’d hoped for.

“We’re on top of the world,” said Joe Golden, the candidate’s father. “It’s fantastic. We’re just so incredibly proud of him.”

Poliquin’s defeat will leave New England without a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, which will be controlled by Democrats in the next session. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is the only GOP senator from the region.

Golden, a Marine Corps veteran and state lawmaker from Lewiston, raised more than $5 million in campaign funds that covered the tab for reams of television commercials and a strong get-out-the-vote effort on the ground. The money, which exceeded Poliquin’s take, came mostly from more than 60,000 individual donors.

But he insisted Thursday he will not spend the next two years raising money for a re-election bid in 2020.

“I’m not into playing that game,” Golden said. “I’m not going to be a part-time congressman.”

He said a “great, professional” campaign team and his wife, Izzie, who skipped law school classes to watch the results with him Wednesday, made his victory possible.

Golden said his success at upending Poliquin shows “we’ve gotten back to the Democratic Party’s roots,” focusing on real-world issues such as health care. He vowed to “fight tooth and nail” to preserve Medicare and Social Security, as well.

What people want, he said, is “someone to have their back.”

Golden began the day about 2,000 votes behind Poliquin, based on unofficial returns. But the redistribution of ranked-choice votes left the Republican behind in a final tally that saw 139,231 votes for Golden, versus 136,326 votes for Poliquin — 50.53 percent to 49.47 percent.

Because the margin exceeds 1 percent of the total vote, Poliquin can only ask for a recount by putting down a deposit for 10 percent of the estimated cost of a recount, which is not yet determined, or at least $5,000. He has five business days to ask for one. If he comes up short in the recount, he would  have to pay for the entire cost of the recount.

Had the final margin been less than 1 percent, Poliquin could have asked for a recount without charge, win or lose.

During a victory speech shortly after the tally was announced, Golden said as a congressman he intends to stay in touch with the people of Maine he has met on the campaign trail over the past 16 months.

“I’m going to keep visiting our docks, farms and forests,” Golden said, “so the fishermen, farmers and the loggers of this state will have a chance to make their voice heard.

“The people of this district deserve a representative who comes to them,” he said. “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.”

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 and 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.

Golden said he did not begrudge Poliquin for pursuing the case.

“That’s his right,” Golden said. “That’s his decision, and I respect that.

“That being said, we will be seated on Jan. 3 and we will begin our work on Jan. 3.”

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

Golden and his staff plan to take some days off after a 14-month campaign. He said he will likely attend an orientation session in Washington the week after Thanksgiving that will include finding out where his office will be.

Supporters for the two independents in the race, Tiffany Bond and William Hoar, ultimately decided the election via how they ranked Golden and Poliquin.

When their second-choice votes were redistributed Thursday, Golden received 10,232, while 4,695 went to Poliquin. More than 8,000 of the ballots cast for independents did not designate a second choice.

Golden thanked all of his competitors.

“Although we may have differed on the best solutions to the challenges we face, each stepped up in an effort to help serve their communities,” he said.

Bond, who finished third, said she wanted “to extend my congratulations to Jared Golden, who was fairly elected by the people of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District through our lawful ranked-choice voting process.

“I am pleased that our state’s ranked-choice election had the opportunity to run its proper course today, ensuring that voters who supported me had the opportunity to be fully heard.”

Maine voters have endorsed the ranked-choice process twice via ballot questions.

Golden’s win marks the first time an incumbent congressman from the district lost since Owen Brewster ousted John Utterback in 1934 at a time when Maine had three districts. Utterback’s 3rd District was entirely contained within what is now the 2nd District.

The last time a 2nd District incumbent lost a general election was in 1916, when Lewiston lawyer Daniel McGillicuddy failed to win re-election.

Golden’s victory means Democrats nationwide have flipped yet another Republican seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A total of 35 House Republicans have so far been unseated by Democratic challengers. The “blue wave” has expanded the party’s majority to a total of 230 seats, versus 198 won by Republicans. Those numbers will change because there are still seven too-close-to-call House races in other parts of the country.

Poliquin’s constitutional challenge will be heard by the court next month, leaving some lingering uncertainty about control of the seat. The lawsuit claims the use of ranked-choice voting violates the U.S. Constitution because the document “sets a plurality vote as the qualification for election” to Congress.

However, the U.S. Constitution does not mention plurality or ranked-choice voting, and several constitutional scholars have said the suit is not likely to succeed.

In his ruling against stopping the count Thursday, Walker said the underlying lawsuit filed by Poliquin and three other 2nd Congressional District voters seeking a permanent injunction to stop ranked-choice voting would proceed with an initial hearing scheduled in early December.

Members of the media, campaign representatives and interested parties crammed into a state conference room Thursday morning ahead of the tabulation. Staff in Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office have been scanning and downloading ballots from the 2nd District since last Friday in preparation for running the results through the ranked-choice voting software.

That final retabulation process took only a few minutes. As cameras streamed live footage to TV and the internet, Dunlap dissected the numbers and announced Golden as the winner after the software allocated the ranked preferences of voters who initially cast ballots for Bond or Hoar.

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State Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat, addresses the media Thursday after the Maine Department of Secretary of State counted the ranked-choice ballots that put Golden ahead of Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

After the instant runoff results were announced, Jared Golden speaks at a news conference at 1:30 p.m. Thursday Nov. 15, 2018 in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)After the instant runoff results were announced, Jared Golden speaks at a news conference at 1:24 p.m. Thursday Nov. 15, 2018 in Augusta.(Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)After the instant runoff results were announced, Jared Golden speaks at a news conference at 1:21 p.m. Thursday Nov. 15, 2018, in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, left and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap explain the ranked choice voting tabulation process as it plays out Thursday Nov. 15, 2018, in the Elkins Building in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)Department of the Secretary of State staffer Heidi Peckham takes a thumb drive out of the the high speed optical scanner at the start of the ranked choice voting tabulation process Thursday Nov. 15, 2018, in the Elkins Building in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn announces that the ranked-choice vote tally will be run at noon Thursday in the Elkins Building in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, left and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap announce that Jared Golden has won the 2nd Congressional District vote count Thursday Nov. 15, 2018, in the Elkins Building in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, left and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap announce that Jared Golden has won the 2nd Congressional District vote count Thursday Nov. 15, 2018, in the Elkins Building in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)After the instant runoff results were announced, Jared Golden, left, and wife Isobel Moiles smile at a news conference at 1:31 p.m. Thursday Nov. 15, 2018, in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Jared Golden addresses the media after the Maine Department of Secretary of State counted the ranked-choice ballots that put Golden ahead of Bruce Poliquin for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, left and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap announce that Jared Golden has won the 2nd Congressional District on Thursday Nov. 15, 2018, in the Elkins Building in Augusta. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

The results of Thursday’s ranked-choice vote count that show Jared Golden defeating Bruce Poliquin 139,231 to 136,326. (Portland Press Herald photo)


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