Election officials in Maine tabulated the results of the country's first-ever instant runoff for Congress on Thursday, determining that Democrat Jared Golden defeated Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin by a narrow 50.5-49.5 margin after the second-choice preferences of voters who cast ballots for two third-party candidates were taken into account. Poliquin had led 46.4 to 45.5 on the initial balloting, but 65 percent of those who voted for independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar elected to mark a second choice. That group overwhelmingly transferred their votes to Golden, who won second-choice ballots by a 69-31 margin, allowing him to edge ahead of Poliquin.
Golden, a Marine veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, gives House Democrats their 37th flip this cycle, with five races still uncalled at press time. This race saw heavy spending, but Golden prevailed even though northern Maine’s rural 2nd District veered sharply away from Democrats in 2016, voting for Donald Trump 51-41 after supporting Barack Obama 53-44 four years earlier. Remarkably, that makes Poliquin the first incumbent to lose this seat since 1916.
Of course, the soon-to-be-ex-congressman is extremely bitter about this turn of events, even though Mainers twice voted to require runoffs in such races, and all candidates participated in this election knowing the system they'd be operating under. Nevertheless, Poliquin waited until after Election Day to file a lawsuit challenging the system, but just ahead of the tabulation on Thursday, the judge hearing the case, Lance Walker, sharply rejected Poliquin's request for a restraining order to block the instant runoff and declare him the winner.
Walker specifically noted that Poliquin's position would deprive all of Bond's and Hoar's voters of what they understood to be their right to be counted—that is, their right to be able to cast a second-choice ballot and have that tallied if their first-choice candidates were knocked out. Walker concluded by saying that Poliquin's remedy does not lie with the courts but rather would be "to petition the political branch to change the law"—in other words, call your congressman.
Poliquin says he plans to forge ahead with his challenge regardless, but if legal norms hold, his odds of success look poor. Of course, that's a big "if" nowadays, given the makeup of the Supreme Court, but it's worth noting that Walker is a Trump appointee.