For Bruce Poliquin, the fight over ranked-choice voting is deeply personal.

The former congressman from Maine’s 2nd District, who lost his seat a year ago in the first federal race with ranked-choice voting, is speaking up in a bid to stymie the spread of an election system he views as “the biggest voter rip-off in Maine history.”

Bruce Poliquin Associated Press

An outspoken critic of the system in Maine, Poliquin earlier this month urged a Massachusetts legislative committee looking into the possibility of adopting the system in the Bay State to “reject the broken promises, confusion and voter fraud inherent in rank voting. Don’t be hoodwinked like we were.”

New York City adopted ranked-choice voting this month for its future elections and efforts are underway in at least a dozen states to follow Maine’s lead by switching to the system.

While electoral reform advocates like Rob Richie of the national group FairVote see the trend as a big step toward better elections, it’s an article of faith in some GOP circles that it is a scheme by Democrats to confuse and cheat Republican voters, a belief spurred by Maine’s governor at the time, Republican Paul LePage, who labeled Poliquin’s defeat a “stolen election.”

A recent fundraising letter by Adrienne Bennett of Bangor, a congressional hopeful in the district, is an example. She said, “Democrats used ranked-choice voting to steal the seat from our rightful congressman, Bruce Poliquin, and we must win it back.”


Sample ballot from the Maine 2nd District congressional race in 2018. File

In Poliquin’s account to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Election Laws, “on Election Day 2018, I won my second re-election by receiving 2,200 more votes than any of my three liberal opponents, one Democrat and two Independents.”

Poliquin, though, didn’t win.

That initial, first-round count on Election Night wasn’t the final word, because Maine voters in 2016 and again in June 2018 adopted ranked-choice voting. The process requires election officials to add in the second- or third-place choices of voters whose first pick came up short.

Poliquin said the backers of independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar essentially “got another bite of the apple” when their votes were redistributed between the two leaders in the race, as the law mandates.

In effect, he said, “those voters who cast their primary ballots for the two candidates who least represent” the values of the district “ended up choosing the rank-vote winner. Very misguided and unfair.”

Bond said both Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden, who ultimately won the election, did a poor job of recognizing how game changing ranked-choice voting is. They both acted “so combative and so partisan,” she said, when they’d have done much better to have embraced the voters who fell between their two camps.


Poliquin said that “after nine days of vote counting chaos, the Maine secretary of state awarded the seat to the Democrat candidate who came in second place in the only federal election in the nation subjected to the unfair rank-voting scam.”

It took nine days for all the ballots to be counted because of the logistical headache of getting each of them to Augusta, where a high-speed machine could tally up the results by town in a heavily scrutinized process with many observers.

Golden wound up with more votes than Poliquin, according to both the state and the court, collecting 50.6% of the final tally.

Poliquin asked a federal court to overturn the count, but a U.S. district judge in Bangor, Lance Walker, appointed by President Donald Trump, issued a decision against him. Poliquin didn’t appeal.

Poliquin said the arguments for the change, including assertions it would “get big money out of political campaign” and that races “would become more civil” proved untrue.

Instead, the race wound up costing more than $30 million and proved, Poliquin said, “the nastiest on record up here.”


Bond said that’s because Golden and Poliquin “really didn’t embrace ranked-choice voting — and it hurt both of their campaigns” as a result. She said the negative advertising they ran was “so gross” that it turned off potential backers.

Poliquin also told Bay State lawmakers that the voting system produced “an unusually large number of spoiled ballots” — which experts said is not true — and left many voters confused.

He also questioned why Secretary of State Matt Dunlap would not let his campaign’s attorneys “inspect the computer black box algorithm for vote counting accuracy.”

Dunlap said that “for reasons that should be obvious, we never allow any outside entity to have access to either our computer architecture or our software.”

“We released all of the cast-vote records to the public after we were done, and basically using an Excel spreadsheet model which is very similar to the algorithm, several mathematicians were able to replicate our results,” he said. “I’m not sure how much more secure and transparent we can be at the same time.”

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