A federal judge rejected a lawsuit Thursday by a Republican incumbent from Maine who lost the nation's first congressional election held under a candidate-ranking system.
Democrat Jared Golden defeated Bruce Poliquin in the November contest, which allowed voters to rank up to four candidates. Poliquin won the most votes but failed to get a majority. Votes cast for two trailing candidates were then reassigned to voters' second choices, which swung the election to Golden.
Poliquin then filed a lawsuit alleging that the new balloting system, also called ranked choice, violated the U.S. Constitution.
He asked Judge Lance Walker either to declare him the winner or order a second election for the 2nd Congressional District. But Walker, a recent appointee by Republican President Donald Trump, did neither.
The judge said he failed to see how Maine's candidate-ranking system undercut voters' First Amendment rights "in any fashion." He said the system was "motivated by a desire to enable third-party and non-party candidates to participate in the political process, and to enable their supporters to express support, without producing the spoiler effect."
The new method of voting "actually encourages First Amendment expression, without discriminating against any voter based on viewpoint, faction or other invalid criteria," said Walker, a judge with U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Meanwhile, the state is about halfway through a recount in Augusta, the state capital, of the 2nd Congressional District election. Poliquin requested the recount.
After the judge's ruling was announced Thursday, Poliquin said he remained concerned about some Maine voters expressing confusion with the voting system. He defended Maine's old system as a "common sense, one-person, one-vote process."
Golden and supporters of ranked voting said after the ruling that they felt vindicated by Walker's decision. Golden said Walker's "decision is clear" and he hopes Poliquin works with him to ensure a smooth transition for the congressional district.
Poliquin's lawyer had argued that the candidate-ranking system required voters to "guess" at which candidates would survive until the second, runoff-style round of tabulations. Peter Brann, an attorney for Golden, called that argument "completely preposterous" last week after Walker heard arguments about the case at U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Thursday, James Monteleone, an attorney for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said he believes Walker's ruling "will stand up to any appeal."
Voters in the November election were allowed to rank as many of the four candidates in the race as they wanted. Independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar were eliminated after the first round of voting.
Maine voters approved the new voting method in 2016. It's used only in primaries and federal elections. The state doesn't use it for state-level elections because of concerns that it violates the Maine Constitution.
Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage, an opponent of ranked choice voting, sent a letter to Walker before the ruling stating that he feels the ranked process is "repugnant to the governing legal principles that each person's vote be counted in every election, as well as the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection."