BANGOR — In a decision that left little hope for Republicans, a federal judge Thursday shot down U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s legal challenge to the ranked-choice voting method that led to his defeat in last month’s 2nd Congressional District race.

U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker ruled against Poliquin on every point in his bid to overturn the election of Democrat Jared Golden of Lewiston, who is set to take office in the U.S. House of Representatives next month.

“It is time to govern, and I look forward to taking my seat in the 116th Congress on January 3rd,” U.S. Rep.-elect Jared Golden said in a statement issued after the ruling.

“Judge Walker’s decision is clear,” Golden said. “It is now my hope that Congressman Bruce Poliquin will work with my team to facilitate a smooth transition of power.”

Poliquin issued a statement on Twitter within minutes of the decision that restated his belief that ranked-choice voting is a mistake, but he did not directly address the judge’s ruling.

The sharply worded decision by Walker gutted arguments by Poliquin’s lawyers that ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional and unfair, leaving the two-term GOP lawmaker unlikely to prevail in an appeal.


“One rarely reads a decision as brutal as Judge Walker’s ruling,” said Amy Fried, chairwoman of the University of Maine Department of Political Science.

Fried added that it “offers no solace for Poliquin’s attorneys, should they wish to appeal it.”

Under Maine’s new ranked-choice law, Golden won in the second round of vote counting after the second- and third-place choices of those who initially supported independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar were redistributed to either Poliquin or Golden.

In the end, Golden emerged with a 3,500-vote win, according to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. A recount is underway, at Poliquin’s request and expense. Dunlap has indicated it is unlikely to change the outcome.

“With each passing day, it becomes more and more evident that Jared Golden is the unquestionable winner of the 2nd Congressional District election,” Golden’s campaign manager, Jon Breed, said.

“Although Poliquin has the right to take an appeal, and he has the right to continue his recount, his chances of winning on either front are virtually impossible,” Breed said. “Bruce Poliquin should concede and work with Congressman-elect Golden to ensure a smooth transition of power for the people of Maine.”


Some people reacting to the ruling praised the decision by Walker, who was appointed to the federal bench this year by President Donald Trump.

“Today’s court decision is an important affirmation of the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting and represents a significant victory, not just for Mainers but for people across the country who want to follow our lead in making elections as democratic and fair as possible,” Jill Ward, president of the League of Women Voters of Maine, said in a prepared statement.

“Mr. Poliquin and his attorneys threw everything but the kitchen sink at ranked-choice voting and the court defended Maine’s law in full,” Kyle Bailey, the campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said in a prepared statement.

“The courts have again confirmed that nothing in Maine’s ranked-choice voting law violates the U.S. Constitution,” said James Monteleone, an attorney for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. “The court conclusively defends the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in an opinion that will stand up to any appeal.”

Walker said in his 30-page opinion that there is no support in the U.S. Constitution for the GOP’s argument that Maine had no right to opt for an electoral system that doesn’t automatically declare the person with the most votes in the first round the victor.

He said in his ruling that whether ranked-choice voting “is a better method for holding elections is not a question for which the Constitution holds the answer.”


“Maine has devised a manner of holding elections that seeks to realize the perceived benefits of a majority candidate, while avoiding the shortcomings of a runoff election,” Walker noted.

He said the delegates to the Continental Congress “declined to dictate either a majority or plurality standard, or preclude state variation in election procedure” and that they made that decision for good cause.

Walker said the founders left questions of policy “to be worked out in the public square and answered at the ballot box.”

The judge said Poliquin’s argument that 100 years of plurality elections “should not be undone by new ideas concerning the manner of holding elections” is not persuasive.

“These arguments are policy considerations that the people and their representatives should weigh and assess when devising the best manner for holding elections,” Walker said.

The judge said the decision to adopt ranked-choice voting “was motivated by a desire to enable third-party and non-party candidates to participate in the political process, and to enable their supporters to express support without producing the spoiler effect.”


As a result, he said, ranked-choice voting “actually encourages First Amendment expression, without discriminating against any voter based on viewpoint, faction or other invalid criteria.”

Walker said Maine’s voters sought a system that would give voice to varied perspectives while allowing representation by candidates most of them regard as the best alternative.

Through the new system, he said, “majority rights have been advanced, and no minority rights have been burdened unduly, if at all.”

Walker scoffed at a claim by Poliquin and voters who signed on as plaintiffs that ranked-choice voting “is susceptible to producing arbitrary or irrational election results” because “a significant segment of the voting public cannot comprehend RCV sufficiently to cast a meaningful vote.”

Walker pointed out the plaintiffs do not contend they are among “the allegedly disadvantaged class” who could not understand the system. He also noted that “similar arguments were once advanced by those who sought to deny the vote to women and minorities.”

Moreover, Walker wrote, “a search for what exactly the burden is” that Poliquin wants lifted by the court “is not a fruitful exercise.”


He said he failed to see how Poliquin’s supporters’ right to free expression was undercut by the new voting system.

“They expressed their preference for Bruce Poliquin and none other,” Walker said, “and their votes were counted.”


U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, at a news conference in November, said he and other critics of ranked-choice voting believe the process could be illegal under federal law. (Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan)

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