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Judge's Ruling On Whether To Halt Ranked-Choice Vote Count Could Come Today

Kevin Bennett
Maine Public
Attorney Lee Goodman, with the Washington D.C. firm of Wiley Rein takes questions from the media Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, regarding the lawsuit he has filed to halt the ranked-choice vote tally.

A federal judge said Wednesday he might rule by Thursday on a lawsuit brought by Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin that seeks to block the implementation of ranked choice voting in the 2nd Congressional District race and argues that the instant runoff system is unconstitutional. Poliquin and three 2nd District voters brought the suit against Secretary of State Matt Dunlap on Tuesday in an effort to stop the ranked-choice ballot count and declare Poliquin the winner in his re-election contest against Democrat Jared Golden.

Lee Goodman, Poliquin’s Washington D.C.-based attorney, says he asked Judge Lance Walker to hear the whole case in an expedited hearing.

"We offered the court the opportunity to consider the motion for a temporary restraining order and the motion for a primary junction in one swoop today, in one hearing, out of respect for the court’s time and efficiency," Goodman says.

The hearing went for two-and-a-half hours. Walker heard  arguments from several parties, but deferred taking testimony from expert witnesses on constitutional law until after he decides on whether to halt the implementation of ranked-choice voting.

Goodman says the bottom line argument in the case is that ranked-choice voting violates the federal constitution.

"Some voters who said they relied on ranked choice voting to vote strategically - it is our position that that extra voting power that those voters took advantage of is actually an unconstitutional dimension of the ranked-choice voting law."

Assistant Maine Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner, who represents Dunlap in the case, said stopping the ballot count would harm the integrity of the ranked-choice voting process. She pointed out that Maine voters have twice have endorsed ranked-choice voting.

James Kilbreth of Portland, one of Jared Golden’s attorneys, argued that it would be unprecedented for Walker to order a halt to the ballot count, or to declare Poliquin the winner.  And James Monteleone, who  represented independent candidate Tiffany Bond and the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, says the challenge comes very late in the game.

"Any candidate that had reason to doubt its constitutionality had ample to present these questions to the court at a point in time that a conclusion could be reached," Monteleone says. "That guidance could be given by the court and voters would know when they went to  the polls exactly how their votes would be counted.”

As the hearing concluded, Walker said he would try to rule on Thursday, but did not promise a decision by then.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.