Next phase of ranked-choice vote count won’t wait for judge, Dunlap says

6 years ago

Maine’s secretary of state said tallying ranked-choice votes from the 2nd Congressional District will not be slowed in anticipation of a judge’s ruling that could halt the process or alter the outcome.

“I administer the law, and there’s nothing in the law … that allows us, upon request, to stop our work. We have to keep going,” Matt Dunlap told a crowd of about 30 people Wednesday night during a Dirigo Speaks program hosted by the Bangor Daily News.

“Chances are we’ll be done running everything in by noon tomorrow,” he said, forecasting that a new tally could be available early Thursday afternoon. “We’re not trying to keep secrets. The way we maintain public confidence in what we’re doing is we tell them where we are.”

Dunlap said he expected the remaining ballots to be processed Thursday morning, which would allow his staff to conduct a count that reassigns ballots with first-choice votes cast for independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar to Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden based on the second and third choices listed on those ballots.

The way those roughly 22,000 ballots are reallocated would determine the outcome of the closely watched election, unless a federal judge invalidates ranked-choice voting. Poliquin claimed victory based on receiving about 2,000 more first-choice votes than Golden, but neither candidate garnered a majority of all ballots cast, sending the election to a second count under the ranked-choice system endorsed by Maine voters in 2016 and again this June.

Poliquin and three other 2nd District voters sued Dunlap on Tuesday, claiming that the two-term incumbent won the election with a plurality vote that his legal team argues should have sealed his re-election. Poliquin’s team also asked U.S. District Judge Lance Walker to issue a temporary restraining order to halt preparation for a second ballot count. After a 2.5-hour court hearing Wednesday morning, Walker said he would strive to issue a ruling Thursday on the restraining order request.

Meanwhile, Dunlap’s staff continued preparing ranked ballots for a second count, a process that started Friday and will stretch into Thursday morning.

At Wednesday’s BDN event, Dunlap answered about a dozen questions after spending most of his day in Augusta overseeing the ballot preparation process.

He walked attendees through Maine’s short history with ranked-choice voting, admitting that, “we have a very limited experience here on how these elections play out.” A candidate who wins the first round of counting tends to win in subsequent rounds, he said, though that trend might not hold up in the 2nd Congressional District, where Election Day exit polling conducted by the BDN in concert with FairVote, a group that supports ranked-choice voting, and Colby College indicated that most of those who voted for Bond and Hoar as their first choices had ranked Golden higher than Poliquin.

Noting that he had been involved in many lawsuits during his almost 12 years as secretary of state, Dunlap joked that he was not happy about being sued, but that a judge’s ruling on Poliquin’s lawsuit will undoubtedly help provide concrete direction for how the state conducts future elections.

“Whatever comes out of this will make the process better,” Dunlap said, because “we rely on findings from the court.”

When asked what will happen if Gov. Paul LePage — a critic of ranked-choice voting — refuses to certify the election results as he did in the June primary, Dunlap said, “Nobody can stop the will of the voters in the election. You can’t stop it by refusing to sign a proclamation.”

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