When Republican Bruce Poliquin last ran against Democrat Jared Golden to represent Maine’s 2nd Circuit in the US House of Representatives, he refused to accept the results for more than a month, during which time he filed multiple federal lawsuits, to stop the counting of votes.
Angered that he had likely lost his seat in the league ballot after the two independents’ second choice in the race was counted, Poliquin falsely declared he had won the “constitution” vote and told his supporters that it was carried out by him through a “black box computer algorithm” and the use of “artificial intelligence” in an “illegal” election.
A federal judge appointed by President Trump pared down his arguments. Poliquin supporters were not denied the right to freedom of expression, Judge Lance Walker ruled, but they “expressed their preference for Bruce Poliquin and no other, and their votes were counted.”
Will Poliquin respect the results of this year’s elections? His campaign declined to say, ignoring multiple requests to speak to the former Republican congressman, who has also declined to say whether he accepts that President Biden won the 2020 presidential election.
Poliquin’s attempts to overturn his narrow defeat by 3,509 votes were unsuccessful in 2018, and his room for legal maneuvering narrowed even more after he asked federal courts to uphold their constitutionality. But political scientists and legal experts say this pattern of high-profile political leaders defaming legitimate elections without facts is having a corrosive effect on the health of America’s increasingly fragile democracy.
“It’s so deeply dangerous,” said University of Maine political scientist Robert Glover. “It plants the seed that the system is biased and unfair, and this can undermine confidence in future electoral administration. That is dangerous for democracy.”
Ron Schmidt, a professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, agrees. “Any type of government relies to some extent on people thinking the government is legitimate, but that’s even more important in a democracy,” he said. “To say you won because you won the ‘first round constitutional vote’ is like losing a game of chess, but to say if it had been checkers you would have won.”
Maine voters adopted the leaderboard by a wide margin in 2016, defending their decision in a second referendum in 2018 that used a “people’s veto” on a Republican-led law that effectively overturned the original referendum. It has since been used for the Maine federal election, but cannot be used in general elections for state office because the Maine Constitution contains language adopted after an armed standoff marred the 1879 election.
Ranked picks are designed to eliminate strategic voting and the fear of backing a “spoiler” candidate. As part of the system, voters receive a ballot paper on which they can rank candidates by preference. If a candidate wins a majority of the first election votes, the contest is over and that person is declared the winner. If not, the candidate with the fewest first-election votes is eliminated, and all their voters’ second-election votes are added to the lists of all remaining candidates. If there is still no clear majority, the last-placed candidate is removed and the next highest choices from his supporters are added to the survivors’ vote counts. The process continues until someone has a majority or all ballots are exhausted.
In November 2018, Poliquin faced Golden and two independents. After the draw on the first ballot, he was just ahead, but had secured less than 47 percent of the vote. His lead narrowed after last-place independent William Hoar was eliminated and his supporters’ second-place choices were included in the survivors’ vote tally. By the third round—when third-placed independent Tiffany Bond was eliminated and her constituents’ second picks distributed—Golden had won the race: 50.5 to 49.5 percent.
Before the election, Poliquin had told WMTW television that he respected the ranking system, saying “the people of Maine made that decision” and “that’s the process that we have.” But after the results of the first round came in – and it seemed his lead would hardly prevail as the proceedings progressed – Poliquin declared himself the winner of the legitimate vote and filed a federal lawsuit seeking the counting of the second and third round ballots to block. He later requested (and paid for) a recount and filed lawsuits to prevent Maine officials from confirming Golden as the winner and attempting to have himself named the winner or to call a new election.
The recount did not change the result and the federal judge was unimpressed. “Maine has developed a way of holding elections designed to realize the perceived advantages of a majority candidate while avoiding the shortcomings of a runoff,” Justice Walker wrote, adding that the ranking “actually encourages First Amendment enunciation.” , without discriminating against a voter based on viewpoint, factor, or other invalid criteria.”
Poliquin — a Harvard-educated investment banker and former state treasurer — falsely told his supporters he “won on Election Day” and that the election was awarded to the “runner-up” using “the rank-voting black-box computer algorithm.” He has since publicly called it a “complete fraud,” telling a radio audience last year that he won the 2018 race but was not seeded because of a ranking vote.
Drexel University political scientist Jack Santucci, who studies ranked voting, said the system is just as secure and auditable as a regular vote, although it takes some time to explain the new system to voters. “There are many possible types of ranking elections. None of them involve a secret algorithm,” Santucci noted.
Glover of the University of Maine said that people who criticize new voting methods after losing an election often try to take advantage of the “breaking-in” period, during which the new system is learned by the public.
“It may be to save face – ie they can’t possibly have lost because they ran a failed campaign – ‘the system needs to be rigged!’ ” he said. “It can also be a tool to delegitimize the winner and an attempt to undermine their goals and agenda once they have seized power.”
In the staunchly Republican city of Oxford, rising prices are voters’ top concern