Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: Rankled

Al Diamon

I really hate it when I find myself agreeing with Bruce Poliquin. Poliquin (R-Lilliput) is the former Republican congressman from Maine’s 2nd District, a certified sore loser with special designation for excessive whininess, and the person most likely to be mistaken for a rejected bobblehead prototype.

Am I being offensive? I prefer Monty Python’s assessment: “Cruel – but fair.”

Regardless, Poliquin is correct about one thing: Ranked-choice voting is bad.

I take some comfort in knowing that Poliquin’s reasons for arriving at that conclusion are not the same as mine, and his are mostly wrong. Contrary to his claims, ranked-choice (he insists on calling it “rank voting”) is not a “scam,” isn’t a plot by Democrats, doesn’t rely on some secret algorithm and hardly constitutes “the biggest voter rip-off in Maine history” (that honor goes to the state’s 1879 gubernatorial election, which failed to produce a winner – a majority was required in those days – causing Republicans to lock other parties out of the Legislature and appoint their candidate to the post).

Poliquin’s contempt for the instant runoff system stems from the 2018 congressional election in which he lost his seat. Although he had slightly more votes than Democrat Jared Golden on election night, the second-place choices of two independent candidates gave Golden a narrow win in subsequent rounds. Poliquin failed to convince a federal judge to overturn the results and commenced a yearlong sulk, during which he’s been traveling the country complaining about ranked-choice proposals in other states.

Let’s leave him to his miserable mission, while we examine some legitimate reasons why ranked-choice is a lousy choice for selecting our elected leaders.

Of which, there are 1,199 new ones.

That’s the number of people who voted in last month’s mayoral election in Portland, only to discover their ballots didn’t count. It was as if they never bothered to go to the polls. By the time the process was finished, these folks had ceased to exist.

Here’s how that happened. The turnout in Portland on Nov. 4 was 18,100 people. But after three rounds of ranked-choice, only 16,901 ballots were still in play because approximately 7 percent of voters hadn’t supported either of the top two finishers, Kate Snyder or Spencer Thibodeau. That unlucky 7 percent no longer figured in determining what constituted a majority.

To be fair (just this once, I promise), Snyder would have prevailed in this election even if the discarded ballots were reinstated, although her majority would have been reduced from 62 percent to 57 percent. But ranked-choice doesn’t guarantee that will always be the case. In the aforementioned 2nd District race from 2018, Golden’s plurality over Poliquin would have fallen just shy of 50 percent if every ballot had been included in the count.

Virtually all of ranked-choice voting’s many promises have proved false. It doesn’t necessarily produce a true majority winner. It doesn’t reduce campaign spending (both the 2019 Portland mayoral election and the 2nd District race in 2018 saw record amounts of cash squandered on advertising). And it doesn’t discourage negative campaigning (Poliquin, Golden and their allies did everything short of calling each other “pedo guy,” while supporters and opponents of incumbent Mayor Ethan Strimling flung feces with the abandon of outraged apes).

Nevertheless, Maine is likely to see more ranked-choice elections in the near future. As with term limits and taxpayer financing of campaigns, the public is in love with the idea of political reforms such as ranked-choice, and uninterested in analyzing the aftermath to see if any of this stuff actually works (spoiler alert: It doesn’t). Portland will vote in 2020 on whether to expand instant runoffs to all municipal elections, and state legislators will again consider a constitutional amendment to allow that system in gubernatorial and legislative races.

Apparently, disenfranchising thousands of voters every election is worth it if it gets rid of one Bruce Poliquin.

When put it that way, it almost seems like a reasonable tradeoff.

If you’d prefer to just have “None of the Above” added to the ballot, email me at

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14 Responses »

  1. No mention of Mills letting the expansion of this RCV become law by not signing it!

    Al Diamon, i ask again, please inform the public of your connection to Janet Mills.

  2. Hutch — I have no connection to Janet Mills..
    Al Diamon

  3. Al, as one of the few remaining Mainers who make a living writing political columns, I am interested in your crystal ball for 2020. Trump won 30 states to 20 for Hillary in 2020. So, how about a handicap column. Ask for other election projections. This is my prediction less than one year out.

    Trump vs Biden, Trump wins 36 states.
    Trump vs Bernie, Trump wins 38 states.
    Trump vs Elizabeth Warren, Trump wins 42 states.
    Trump vs Mayor Pete, Trumps wins 44 states.
    Trump vs Bloomberg, Trump wins 40 states.

    Trump black vote, 23 percent. (He got 8 percent in 2016)
    Trump Hispanic vote, 36 percent. (He got 28 percent in 2016)

  4. For Pete's sake, those 1,199 voters in Portland weren't unlucky or treated unfairly. Like everyone else, they were given the opportunity to indicate a preference between Snyder and Thibodeau, but they CHOSE not to. That's on them.

    Failing to fully express one's franchise is not the same as being disenfranchised.

    It's true that RCV can't guarantee a winner who is the first choice of a majority. Such a candidate often doesn't exist. RCV does, however, prevent victory by one who's the *least* favorite of a majority, and that is a great virtue.

  5. @John Day...I like your way of thinking!

    KAG 2020!!

  6. John — Sorry, but I don’t follow national trends closely enough to make predictions about what’s going to happen a year from now in South Dakota or Idaho. As for your predictions, I seem to recall that on the only occasion we made a bet about the outcome of a Maine election, you ended up buying me a case of beer. Have you upgraded your crystal ball since then?

  7. John, your idea is a good one. We should handicap the pols warming chairs in disgusta as well. KAG2020

  8. Just adopt STAR Voting. It's simpler and more democratic than RCV.

  9. More likely those 1,199 voters had no peference between Snyder and Thibodeau and chose to abstain. Al, you can't force people to vote for one of those two candidates. Voters have a right to abstain -- that's their right, and your expression of "concern" for those that deliberately exercised that right is paternalistic and patronizing.

  10. In the Maine 2nd, there were over 7800 votes the equivalent of the 1199 you write about in the mayoral race. Of the 23,000+ ballots from the 2 eliminated candidates transferred into the 2nd round of voting, a FULL THIRD of the ballots were disqualified, mostly for "undervotes." For a process that is pitched as transparent and fair, how could so many people not understand what to do? (Granted, some of those viewed both Golden and Poliquin as unacceptable, but that many?)

    Two things should really concern people about RCV. First, an election could be decided by the equivalent of reading dimpled chads. (see 1st article below) As a professional surveyor, I never use this question type because of respondent error and respondent annoyance. Second, The Law of Unintended Consequences will rear its head. Elections and electioneering will be changed in ways unconsidered. Do we really want elections with scads of fringe candidates?

    I have 2 articles on this (to be revised) with the 2nd reviewing the Maine 2nd election results:

  11. I get it. To insulate yourself when you have the rare disagreement with the snobs on the left and the editors of the PPH, make sure you also fill the column with a hyper-nasty attack on a Republican thereby virtue signaling "I may not be with you on this issue but I still hate Republicans like you do" and ensure continued invitations to those beautiful people cocktail parties.

  12. I am a veteran who watches all facets of all news both pro and con and using the common sense and being born and raised in Maine tells me I will be voting for the most hard working, drug free, patriotic, God fearing man since John F. Kennedy whose name is Donald Trump ........Ex Democrat

  13. The additional votes that Golden picked up in the later rounds of RCV were mostly "anybody but Bruce". It worked. RCV works.

  14. Yes Tom might be right.

    The "ANYONE BUT HER" votes worked that way in the last presidential election.
    This time it will be "ANYONE BUT "THEM"".....