AUGUSTA (NEWS CENTER Maine) — It's a local vote count getting some national attention.
The last few ballots from Maine's second congressional district arrived in Augusta on Saturday to be counted in what’s become a ranked choice election where special ballot counting machine will determine whether incumbent Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin or Democrat Jared Golden will be part of the next Congress.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has no exact estimate when the ranked-choice count will be over but his best guess is next week.
The vote count is happening in a room in a state office building on the eastern side of Augusta.
On Saturday an audience of a dozen or so journalists, campaign staffers and representatives from the Maine GOP were there watching the count.
Secretary Dunlap says he knows this vote count is being watched with a microscope because it’s the first election for a federal office to be decided by ranked choice in the United States.
So far, he says, everything is going as expected but he feels prepared to handle surprises.
“Anything that happens here, we just have to manage,” he said. “So far it's gone very smoothly.”
Former Democratic candidate for governor, Betsy Sweet, stopped by the counting room on Saturday.
She told NEWS CENTER Maine that being a candidate waiting on a ranked choice answer is both exciting and nerve-wracking.
In fact, the one thing she wishes she could change about ranked-choice voting is the long wait.
Sweet’s advice to Poliquin and Golden is to take the election off their minds, at least until they get a call from Matt Dunlap that the final tallying has begun.
“When they start running [the final tabulation], I would be in this room, but until then I'd be catching up with friends and family,” she said.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Bruce Poliquin’s campaign made a statement somewhat critical of the ranked-choice system.
“As Rank Choice Voting begins, it's clear that Bruce won Election Day by a margin of over 2,000 votes, defeating all three other opponents,” it said. “In any other federal election across America, this process would be complete. Maine is the only state subject to this Rank Choice Voting system which allows people multiple votes, via the reallocation of their vote, if they didn't initially select one of the two top vote earners. We will continue to monitor this process, as there have been ongoing concerns.”
Even if a ranked choice winner is declared next week, the election may not be over.
Secretary Dunlap indicated Friday there could be a lawsuit challenging the ranked choice decision because it is the first-in-the-country and no other state uses this system.