A federal judge said he will not decide until Thursday whether to intervene in the legal dispute over Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race, setting the stage for a potential ranked-choice vote count on Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker held a hearing at 9 a.m. in Bangor to consider a request from incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin and three other voters to block the ranked-choice run-off in the race. Poliquin holds a narrow, roughly 2,000-vote lead over Democratic challenger Jared Golden, but that outcome could change during the nation’s first ranked-choice vote count in a congressional race.

After the two-hour hearing, Walker said he would move quickly on the restraining order but that decision was not going to be issued before Thursday. That may give Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office time to determine the ranked-choice winner before any potential court order to stop the process.

State workers in Augusta continued processing ballots Wednesday and were expected to work their way through ballots from the final county – Washington County – in the afternoon. But that process could be delayed somewhat because elections staff discovered that 10 ballots from a rural township in the county had not been sent to Augusta.

A detective was dispatched from Ellsworth to Cherryfield – the town where the votes were cast – to retrieve the ballots and transport them to Augusta.

Lee Goodman, the attorney for Poliquin, said he hoped Dunlap would not move forward with the calculation of the ballots until the judge decided on the restraining order.

“I think the prudent course would be for the Secretary of State to give due respect to this federal court and wait for the federal judge’s ruling tomorrow and then best decide how to act,” Goodman said.

Dunlap made it clear Tuesday that the count would continue until ordered to stop by the court.

Attorneys for Dunlap, Poliquin, Golden and Tiffany Bond, an Independent candidate whose votes will be redistributed under ranked-choice voting, argued their positions before Walker for just over two hours Wednesday morning.

James Monteleone, an attorney for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said there was no urgency to stop Dunlap.

Walker said he would act quickly on the restraining order request but needed time to evaluate the arguments.

Ballot processing resumed at 9 a.m. in Augusta as Walker was hearing arguments from the attorneys.

“About 75 towns ballots’ left to scan,” the Maine Secretary of State’s office tweeted just before resuming the vote counting at 9 a.m.

The final tabulation of votes to determine the ranked-choice winner in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District could happen as soon as Wednesday afternoon. Neither Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin nor Democratic challenger Jared Golden secured a majority of the vote in the first count of ballots in the Nov. 6 election, thereby pushing the tabulation to voters’ second-choice candidates – or perhaps third-choice – until one of the front-runners crests the 50 percent threshold.

Maine voters have approved ranked-choice voting twice at the ballot box, most recently in June when they also utilized the system for the first time for primary elections for governor, Congress and state legislative seats.

Poliquin and the other plaintiffs filed the federal lawsuit Tuesday claiming the use of ranked-choice voting violates the U.S. Constitution because the document “sets a plurality vote as the qualification for election” to Congress. However, the U.S. Constitution does not mention plurality or ranked-choice voting, and several constitutional scholars said it’s unlikely the lawsuit will prevent the run-off.

In an affidavit filed with the court, Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, who is leading the ranked-choice ballot processing effort in Augusta, warned against halting that process now.

“Issuance of a court order to stop the RCV counting process before it is concluded, as the plaintiffs request, would be extremely disruptive and would jeopardize the integrity of the process,” Flynn wrote to the court.

Flynn said that the entire process – from securing and storing ballots, scanning/downloading them and comparing Secretary of State results to records submitted by town clerks – is a carefully staged and sequenced operation.

“It will be extremely difficult to maintain quality control throughout this process if it is interrupted for a period of several days or weeks,” Flynn wrote. “We have mobilized staff from different divisions within the Department to assist with the RCV counting process, and having to disperse and remobilize at a later time would be extremely inefficient. During this entire time, the Secretary of State is also incurring the cost of having our vendor representative present to provide technical support and to assist with running the RCV utility at the end of the process.”

Poliquin is believed to be leading Golden by roughly 2,000 votes, based on unofficial election results. Some observers speculate that his lead could evaporate, however, as third- and fourth-place finishers Tiffany Bond and William Hoar – both independents – are eliminated from contention and their supporters’ second- and third-choice votes are awarded to either Golden or Poliquin.

Poliquin’s lawsuit sought an immediate injunction to stop the count, but the court did not take steps to intervene until his lawyers filed an additional request late Tuesday for a temporary restraining order. If granted, the restraining order would halt the counting process until the court can hear arguments on the constitutionality of the process. A hearing on the suit had been scheduled for early December.

The judge in the case, Walker, was first appointed as a Maine District Court judge by Gov. Paul LePage in 2014 and has been on a fast track since. He was elevated to the Maine Superior Court a year later and President Trump in April nominated him to serve on the federal bench. Walker was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in October.