Maine Election Update

By Ethan Schuler

Cartoon by Claire Cahill

Nearly a month after the midterm elections, several local elections remain undecided and controversial. One such election, the Waterville referendum to ban plastic bags in stores over 10,000 square feet, is headed to the Maine Supreme Court.

The subject of the court battle: whether to count 150 Colby students’ votes. The referendum initially passed narrowly, but the Colby students’ votes were questioned after it was discovered they had used P.O.Boxes as their registration address as opposed to a residential address. The votes of these 150 students will decide the fate of the referendum; if they are not counted, it will fail.

Some, including Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, believe misregistration of addresses is grounds for disqualification from voting in Waterville. Isgro told New England Cable News that he believes counting these students’ votes allows people to establish their residency retroactively so they can vote wherever they see fit, therefore constituting voter fraud. Those in favor of the votes view the opposition as fueling voter suppression, while others believe it to be a simple misunderstanding.

Regardless, the Maine Supreme Court will likely decide the case this month.

This is the first time the court will decide the fate of a city referendum. On the statewide stage, the ranked-choice voting system in some Maine elections has placed the fate of one congressional election under scrutiny.

This is the election in Maine’s 2nd congressional district, adjacent to Colby, between incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden. The ranked-choice voting system allowed votes to be recounted, with votes for the lowest-scoring candidates reassigned in the event no one received 50% in the first round. The system is also called “instant runoff.” This was the case in the election between Poliquin and Golden, and while Poliquin led the first round by over 2,600 votes, Golden won the instant runoff by 3,509. Poliquin has since sued the state of Maine on the grounds that the ranked-choice voting system violates the Constitutional value of “one person, one vote.”

The case is being heard in the U.S. District Court in Bangor, Maine this week, but according to The Portland Press Herald, Poliquin’s lawyers are already looking past this case, with the potential for a Supreme Court case. However, many experts have predicted that Poliquin’s arguments will not hold on constitutional grounds, as Article 1, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution states broadly that states have the right to decide the “manner of holding elections.” In addition, a U.S. District Court in San Francisco already ruled in favor of ranked-choice voting in a previous case.

While the court cases continue, a hand recount of the election is also beginning in Maine. According to the Bangor Daily News, the recount is likely to continue into 2019, after Golden is sworn into Congress (Golden already attended orientation in Washington, D.C.). Because Poliquin requested the recount, he is required to pay for it in the event the results of the election do not change, which seems likely given the fact that Golden won the final round by over one percent. This election seems unlikely to be resolved soon, even with the elections over four weeks passed.