Ballots start arriving in Augusta for ranked-choice tabulations in 2 races

By Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald | Jun 15, 2018

Ballots from across Maine were delivered Thursday to a secure office in Augusta in preparation for the state’s first ranked-choice voting tabulation process.

A private courier service hired by the state was expected to collect boxes containing paper ballots and electronic memory sticks containing digital records from nearly 500 municipalities and voting locations around the state.

On Friday, staff at the office of Secretary of State Matt Dunlap are expected to begin loading those ballots and records into the machines that will be used to run the ranked-choice calculations for Maine’s Democratic primaries for governor and the 2nd Congressional District.

The first batch of ballots – contained in locked, blue metal boxes – arrived from Readfield and nearby towns just before 4:30 p.m., with additional arrivals expected Thursday night and Friday during the day. The ballots were delivered by an unmarked SUV, whose driver watched as state employees loaded the ballots onto carts and cross-checked a list to ensure everything was present.

“We are hoping by the end of the day tomorrow that we will have the bulk of them,” Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said after the first arrival. “The municipalities do have three days after the election in Maine law to wrap up their results and get them to us in Augusta … so there might be some that don’t wrap them up until (Friday) and we’ll be getting theirs early next week. But we are really playing all of that by ear. This is the first time we do this sort of election.”

Maine’s experiment with ranked-choice voting is expected to draw national attention because it is the first time in the nation that a statewide election was decided using the process.

None of the seven Democratic candidates for governor – Janet Mills, Adam Cote, Betsy Sweet, Mark Eves, Mark Dion, Diane Russell and Donna Dion – received more than 50 percent of the vote during Tuesday’s primary election. As a result, the winner – likely either Mills or Cote, based on initial votes – will be decided through the ranked-choice process that was first approved by Maine voters in November 2016 and then was reaffirmed Tuesday during a “people’s veto” of a law that sought to delay the process.

 

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The Republican primary for governor was won by Gorham businessman Shawn Moody, who avoided a ranked-choice showdown with this three opponents by winning 56 percent of the vote on the initial count.

But it appears the ranked-choice process will likely be required to settle the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. State Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston was just shy, as of Thursday evening, of the threshold needed to win outright with 48.7 percent of the vote, followed by conservationist Lucas St. Clair of Hampden with 41.5 percent and business owner Craig Olson of Isleboro at 9.8 percent.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters select candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the first count, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Voters who preferred the eliminated candidate would then have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process continues until one candidate has a majority and is declared the winner.

Mills, Maine’s attorney general, was still leading the pack Thursday night with roughly 33 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from 90 percent of the state’s precincts. Cote, a Sanford attorney and military veteran, was not far behind at 28.4 percent of the vote, followed by Sweet at 16.2 percent and Eves at 14.5 percent.

 

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It was unclear Thursday how long the ranked-choice tabulation process will take, but Muszynski said it was unlikely those calculations will begin until Monday after all of the ballots have been received and entered into tabulator machines. The state rented a high-speed tabulator – similar to but much faster than the machines found at many polling locations – and purchased the algorithm to run the ranked-choice process.

Ben Dudley, representing the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, which led the campaign to institute the process in Maine, was present Thursday to see the first batch of ballots arrive. Representatives from the committee expect to be present throughout the ranked-choice tabulation process.

“We have been working on this for a long time – for years this has been a process of realizing this vision,” said Dudley, a former Portland lawmaker. “So we are very excited”

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