A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
Four years ago, Maine had its first experience with ranked-choice voting. The first general election race happened to have a rare outcome.
Then-Rep. Bruce Poliquin led in the first round of voting, but Democratic challenger Jared Golden ousted him after two liberal-leaning independents were eliminated and second choices were counted for voters who ranked them first. While first-round winners usually hold their leads in ranked-choice voting contests, the close race between Poliquin and Golden set up this outlier and colored the state’s experience with the method.
It led to an unsuccessful court challenge from Poliquin that nevertheless stretched to Christmas Eve. Going into Election Day, ranked-choice voting was supported by a majority of Mainers, but Republicans took a dim view of it and were less likely to rank choices, according to exit polls of the primary and general elections. Poliquin’s loss locked in Republican antipathy toward ranked-choice voting here.
Poliquin is now in a rematch with Golden that will also feature ranked-choice voting because independent Tiffany Bond is on the ballot again after helping swing the 2018 race.
The Republican is also sticking to his ranked-choice voting strategy from the last campaign. He told WVOM on Tuesday that supporters should either just vote for him without ranking any other choices or vote Poliquin all the way across — moves that would have the same effect of locking in a vote for the Republican. (Ranking Poliquin first and Golden second would do the same thing as long as Bond remains in third place.)
“These elections will be safe,” Poliquin said, trying to reassure his voters. “They will be secure.”
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This also seems to be figuring into Poliquin’s debate strategy. On Tuesday, the two campaigns released dueling schedules that only line them up for two head-to-head debates. Each of them agreed to do three, but Golden refused an invitation from the Bangor Daily News and WGME that Poliquin accepted. In turn, Poliquin left a Maine Public debate off his calendar that Golden agreed to.
The statewide TV and radio network is the only one that invites every candidate on the ballot without conditions, while other hosts generally apply a polling threshold that longshot candidates must meet. While Poliquin is not conditioning appearances on Bond’s absence, he is trying to avoid platforming her after she endorsed Golden as a second choice in 2018.
Poliquin’s strategy is aimed at tamping down the effect of ranked-choice voting. But unless Bond fades almost completely, he will not be able to avoid it if this race is as close as the one in 2018. Not appealing to second-choice voters would be the risk at that point, just as it was four years ago.