In November, I took the 10-hour bus ride home to Hampden from college in New York so I could vote in person. I was excited not only because it was my first election, but because ranked-choice voting, a system that I helped campaign for in 2016, would be implemented on the ballot for the first time. Shading in the array of bubbles on the ballot, I was engaging in an exciting new experiment in our state.
In 1932, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis popularized the term “laboratories of democracy.” In 2018, Maine truly stepped into the role of a laboratory of democracy as the first state in U.S. history to use ranked-choice voting to elect two U.S. House members and a U.S. senator.
However, anyone familiar with the race in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District knows that the first implementation of ranked-choice voting in this election did not go as smoothly as planned. Instead, it has resulted in a rage against experimentation with democracy in Maine.
Since it was introduced to Maine, ranked-choice voting was established as a more liberal issue while conservatives claimed that it was unconstitutional because it counted votes twice or more, fearing that it would loosen their grip on power. The latter was their more pertinent, yet less publicized concern.
Bruce Poliquin, the incumbent Republican representative, who would have won if ranked-choice voting was not in place, filed a federal lawsuit, which argued that ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional and made sure that a recount of the votes took place. The recount itself, on top of the lawsuit, was an attempt by Poliquin to make sure that he remained in office.
However, it was clearly more so a political stunt for the Republican Party to further rail against the system of ranked-choice voting. Poliquin ended the recount bid early after it became clear that the results would not be in his favor. He must now pay for the recount, but such a price is a small one for the political statement Poliquin was able to make against ranked-choice voting.
I would be less concerned about the Republicans’ ulterior motives if they had filed a lawsuit against the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting after it had helped them win an election. Unfortunately, events did not work out for us to see such a possibility. On Thursday, it became solidly evident through U.S. District Judge, Lance Walker’s judgment that the lawsuit was also a political stunt, designed simply to make a statement against our new voting system. Walker’s final comments included a note on how weak the argument of the prosecution actually was.
These arguments against ranked-choice voting are not ones that were based out of concern for the people, but instead for the short-term continuity of power for the Republican Party. This raises the question of whether the party can actually adapt to a changing world or will dwindle with a solidified stance against any change in the democratic sphere.
Ranked-choice voting is a system put in place by a referendum as a direct result of the will of the people. By opposing it, Poliquin and the Republican Party are saying they do not respect the will of the people. Their political stunts do not pertain to the average citizen, but simply to their own realities as politicians.
I invite Poliquin and his cohorts to consider the ramifications that their actions have on the lives of their constituents, rather than themselves. As we continue to develop and explore our democracy, Maine and its lawmakers should embrace its status as a laboratory of democracy and accept new experiments like ranked-choice voting, especially when implemented by the people. No matter what party affiliation it serves, it is important for all lawmakers to not interfere and let experiments run their course. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be dissent or debate, but I am saying that new democratic processes should be allowed at least a trial run before any attempt to shut them down.
The actions that were intended to preserve the power of the Republicans for now could be the actions that hurt them in the long term. If they cannot respect the will of the people, they won’t succeed in Maine. If they respect new democratic processes and adapt and learn how to use those processes in their favor, the Republican Party would have much more success. As a proud Maine voter, I know I would rather support a party that values the opinions of its constituents rather than its own self-preservation.
Orion Zydlewski is a freshman at Columbia University, where he is studying political science and economics. He is from Hampden.