The Slatest

Maine Just Made History With a Better Way to Hold Elections (and an Adorable Livestream)

Jared Golden.
Democrat Jared Golden will represent Maine’s 2nd District.
Jared Golden for Congress

Democrat Jared Golden was finally declared the winner of the congressional election in Maine’s 2nd District on Thursday, becoming the first person to win a seat in Congress despite receiving fewer first-choice votes than his opponent, in this case Republican Bruce Poliquin.

That’s because Maine was the first state in the nation to conduct a federal general election using a system called “ranked-choice voting.” After last Tuesday’s four-way contest broke very slightly to Poliquin, votes for two third-party candidates were reassigned based on preferences voters had filled out on their ballots. The third-party vote broke heavily for Golden, and put him ahead in the final two-way tally by less than 3,000 votes. He won 50.53 percent of the vote to Poliquin’s 49.47 percent.

At least as exciting as the decisive role of ranked-choice voting, which is supposed to reward moderates and boost third parties by abolishing the concept of a “spoiler candidate,” was the homespun nature of the announcement, which was broadcast from Augusta, Maine, on Facebook Live.

Starring Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn as, basically, “your mom and dad fiddling with the computer,” the presentation featured some live work in Excel and a program called ExpressRunoff, followed by an attempt to get the dang printer working. Dunlap and Flynn stood by a projector screen, making small talk and watching as an official from the secretary of state’s office fired up the various softwares and did a little “find and replace” to account for some spelling issues. “Looks like Jared Golden is the apparent winner of the ranked-choice election,” Dunlap announced, with a ho-hum tenor that felt like an antidote to the frenzied, election-night calls of cable news anchors.

The whole spectacle was homespun, endearing, and tense all at once, and did more to dispel the myth of partisan vote-counters than a stern politician ever could. It was de Tocqueville rebooted, on Windows XP.

It’s not over yet, exactly: Poliquin is suing the state, arguing that ranked-choice voting—which Maine voters have approved twice in referenda—is illegal under federal law. (The state supreme court has agreed in the case of state elections.) Poliquin has pointed out that the state has a long tradition of electing governors, senators, and representatives without a majority, thanks for strong third-party showings. That is also an argument of RCV proponents. May whatever happens next be streamed on Facebook Live, too.