Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin asked Monday for a recount in the 2nd Congressional District race he lost narrowly to Jared Golden, the Lewiston Democrat.

Later in the day, Golden said, “Dragging this process out only hurts the people we were elected to serve.”

Golden said in a prepared statement Poliquin is “within his rights to pay for a recount,” but is unlikely to prevail.

“My immediate concern during this transition period is that the important constituent work currently being handled by Poliquin’s office be transferred to my staff as smoothly as possible,” Golden said. 

The recount will likely take three or four weeks, said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, leaving it uncertain who won as the next U.S. House session prepares to get underway Jan. 3.

“Today, we are proceeding with a traditional ballot recount conducted by real people,” Brendan Conley, Poliquin’s campaign spokesman, said in a prepared statement.

Conley said Poliquin has “heard from countless Maine voters who were confused and even frightened their votes did not count due to computer-engineered rank voting.

“Furthermore, we have become aware that the computer software and ‘black box’ voting system utilized by the secretary of state is secret,” he said.

“No one is able to review the software or computer algorithm used by a computer to determine elections. This artificial intelligence is not transparent.”

Dunlap scoffed at the secrecy argument. He said Poliquin’s campaign asked about the software used to count the ballots and was told the state had to keep details confidential for security purposes.

“You don’t put something like that out there for hackers to use,” Dunlap said.

He said the state paid Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software, which the state has used for years, to come up with the software needed to count the paper ballots Maine relies on.

Dunlap said the tabulators in past recounts have proven 99.9 percent accurate and he expects that will happen once again with the congressional recount.

Poliquin is one of only a few losing congressional candidates in the nation who has yet to concede following an election in which Democrats made gains in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives, including the ouster of 29 incumbent Republicans.

Poliquin, 65, had to decide by Monday whether to ask for the recount. More than 3,500 votes separate Golden and Poliquin among the almost 290,000 cast.

Golden’s campaign manager, Jon Breed, said that “dragging out this inevitable transition of power only hurts the people of Maine’s 2nd District.

He said Poliquin first asked a judge “to stop the counting, now he wants the secretary of state to count again. Mr. Poliquin must face facts: he lost, and Jared Golden will be seated on Jan. 3.”

“For the good of Maine’s people, it’s time for Bruce to move on and assist Congressman-elect Golden’s staff in an orderly transition,” Breed said in a prepared statement.

In addition to the recount, the two-term GOP congressman is trying to reverse the ranked-choice voting results through a federal lawsuit challenging the voting system that landed him in second place in the four-way race that included two independent candidates.

In a recount, representatives of each candidate and staff members from the Department of the Secretary of State manually review each ballot to determine the official vote tally.

State law requires the Maine State Police to collect the ballots for the recount and keep them in a secure facility until the recount has been completed, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The ballots are stored in tamper-proof metal containers and are closed with specially numbered security seals and locks.

The ballots from all hand-count municipalities in Congressional District 2 have already been retained at the secure tabulation site in Augusta from the initial tabulation effort for ranked-choice voting.

Additionally, all ballots from Hancock County will be in hand due to a county probate judge recount.

The state police must still collect the ballots from municipalities that used machines to count the ballots, including every town in Androscoggin County. Those towns and cities had sent memory devices for the ranked-choice vote count.

There is no indication that Poliquin plans to throw in the towel without first pressing his federal lawsuit in Bangor’s district court.

Poliquin contends “rank choice voting” is unconstitutional because it “goes against the very fiber of fairness” that mandates each person should have only one vote.

In his initial ruling on a request for an injunction to stop the ranked-choice vote count, District Court Judge Lance Walker, who was recently appointed by President Donald Trump, provided little grounds for belief that he might ultimately side with Poliquin.

Walker said in his initial ruling that Poliquin’s lawyers “have not demonstrated that it is more likely than not they will succeed in demonstrating” the Constitution “prohibits an election process that involves more than one round of ballot counting.”

He noted there are historical examples of both majority and plurality winners in American history, though Maine is the first state to rely on ranked-choice voting in federal elections.

In its early days, Maine did require a majority winner, which sometimes required multiple elections before someone could claim victory.

Poliquin’s lawyers are scheduled to be back in Walker’s courtroom on Dec. 5 to make their case in more detail. Attorneys for the state, Golden and independent candidate Tiffany Bond are expected to appear as well to amplify their arguments in opposition to request for relief.

Even if the judge agrees with Poliquin, he sounded skeptical of the Republican’s assertion that if the voting system is unconstitutional, the remedy should be to use the first-round results only, a round that Poliquin won.

What Walker might do if he sides with Poliquin’s arguments remains uncertain. A new election without ranked-choice voting is perhaps the most likely possibility should the judge agree the state relied on an unconstitutional method of voting.

The Secretary of State’s Office determined this month Golden won by a 50-49 percent margin in the final round of ranked-choice voting. Two independent candidates, Bond and Will Hoar, were eliminated after the first round when neither had the potential to finish first or second.

The ballots cast for Hoar and Bond were redistributed in the second round to either Poliquin or Golden if the ballots indicated a higher preference for either one of them. Golden won more than two-thirds of the second-round votes added into the final results.

Poliquin had to put up a $5,000 deposit toward the expense of the recount. He will be billed for much more if he trails after the recount is done.

“The problem with ‘full costs’ is they never seem to cover the work the staff should have been doing instead, which is usually still waiting for them on the backside,” Bond wrote on Twitter.

Dunlap said the final tab could reach $100,000 or more, mostly to pay for Maine State Police to retrieve ballots. He said his staff’s work does not generally count toward the bill because his employees are at work anyway.

They will have to count by hand the ballots from 375 towns, Dunlap said, typically taking about a town an hour.

Dunlap said he’s not sure why Poliquin waited so long to request a recount. Perhaps, though, the congressman’s campaign is “just reserving their rights” to proceed with one. It had to ask by Monday or forfeit the chance for a recount.

Maine uses paper ballots in part so that it can always come up with an accurate count that doesn’t rely on computers. It’s a way of avoiding concerns that software or machine makers could monkey with the results, officials have said.

Bond, a Portland lawyer who got 5 percent of the vote Election Day, said she looks forward “to Bruce’s passionate dedication to election security and hand-counting ballots as a national initiative for the balance of his term of office. Perhaps he can even draft a bill?”

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U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (AP file photo)

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