The ranked-choice ballots have been counted, but the fighting in the unprecedented race to represent Maine’s 2nd Congressional District may not be over.

On Friday, one day after Democrat Jared Golden surged from behind to win the ranked-choice vote in the district, Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin and his advisers weren’t saying whether they would request a recount in the race.

Golden, a state lawmaker from Lewiston and Marine Corps veteran, had 2,905 more votes than Poliquin following the nation’s first ranked-choice tabulation for a congressional race Thursday. Voters who initially supported two independents in the race, Tiffany Bond and William Hoar, tipped Golden over the top after the ranked-choice software considered their second- and third-choice preferences.

Poliquin’s campaign has vowed to continue its legal challenge of the ranked-choice system in federal court. But before that case is heard – likely in early December – the campaign also could request an official recount of the ballots. A complicated set of newly adopted election rules gives Poliquin five business days to request a recount from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Neither Poliquin’s campaign spokesman, Brendan Conley, nor campaign adviser Brent Littlefield responded to questions about a potential recount on Friday. Kristen Muszynski, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, said she was not aware of any recount requests in the race Friday afternoon.

If one is requested by the deadline Thursday, however, it will be carried out in the same slow, methodical, hand-counting method used for any other recount – only with additional rounds because of ranked-choice voting.

“Obviously, it’s a lot more complicated and will take longer,” Muszynski said.

Endorsed by voters in November 2016 and reaffirmed in a June 2018 ballot initiative, ranked-choice voting allows individuals to list three or more candidates in a race by preference. If no candidate wins majority support on the first vote tally, the computer software eliminates candidates from the bottom up and reallocates their supporters’ votes based on how they ranked the remaining candidates.

The winner is the first candidate to surpass the 50 percent threshold among the remaining pool of valid ballots.

If a recount is requested, paper ballots will have to be collected from all the towns that scanned them on Election Day and sent electronic images of those ballots to Augusta to be processed for the ranked-choice vote. (Towns that still hand-count paper ballots already have sent them to the Secretary of State’s Office.)

Teams of attorneys and recount participants from the Golden and Poliquin campaigns would then hand-count ballots town-by-town, setting aside any “disputed ballots.” The ranked-choice election adds additional rounds of hand-counting and sorting.

Given that Golden’s victory margin was less than 3,000 votes, recount teams likely would devote considerable energy to the 5,883 “undervotes” and 426 “overvotes” recorded by the ballot-scanning machines.

An example of an “overvote” in a ranked-choice election is when a voter marks more than one “first choice” candidate. An “undervote” is when someone filled out a ballot but didn’t vote in the 2nd District race or skipped the first two rankings. Those ballots were still scanned for the ranked-choice vote because towns submitted all ballots to the Secretary of State for the tabulation.

“We were scanning all of the ballots that had the (2nd District) race on them … so if people decided not to vote in that race, or if they skipped two rankings, they would be listed as an undervote,” Muszynski said.

As of Friday, the Secretary of State had received requests for two recounts for legislative seats – House District 58 in Lewiston and House District 82 in Litchfield, Wells and Monmouth. Additionally, recounts have been requested in two county-level races.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin speaks at a news conference Tuesday at the State House. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

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