The Portland Phoenix

Politics & Other Mistakes: Rankled

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 – and led 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 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 in 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 you 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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