Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Thursday said she would not contest the outcome of Maine’s Senate election in November should she win a plurality of the vote on election night but lose in the state’s ranked-choice voting system.
In ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives more than half of the first-choice votes, they win. If there is no majority winner after counting first-choice votes, the race moves to ranked-choice tabulation rounds.
The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as their first choice will have their votes counted for their next choice. This process continues until a candidate wins more than half of the votes.
If a voter did not rank more than one candidate (they’re not required to) then the ballot becomes inactive and is not part of the final round of counting.
For instance, a candidate could receive a plurality ― more votes than any other candidate ― but not a majority of first-choice votes. This would trigger ranked-choice tabulation.
This scenario happened in Maine in 2018 when Republican Rep. Bruce Poloquin won about 46% of the first-choice votes on election night but ended up losing to Democrat Jared Golden during subsequent ranked-choice rounds.
Poloquin contested the outcome of the election. He filed a lawsuit seeking to have ranked-choice voting declared unconstitutional, but a judge denied his request. He also requested a recount but eventually called it off.
Collins was asked during Maine’s Senate debate Thursday whether she would contest the outcome of the election if she, like Poloquin, won a plurality on election night but lost in the final ranked-choice tabulation.
“I would not,” Collins said. “Ranked-choice voting has been upheld twice by the courts in Maine. Those are the rules that we have to play by. I think a fair system would be a true runoff where everyone got to vote twice but that’s not what we have in the state of Maine.”
Advocates of ranked-choice voting say the system ensures the candidate with the most broad support wins the race and avoids so-called spoiler candidates who might splinter the vote. Critics say ranked-choice voting adds to voter confusion.
In 2018, Maine became the first state to use ranked-choice voting in statewide elections and, this year, it will become the first state to adopt the method for a presidential election.
Experts have said Maine’s ranked-choice voting system could spell trouble for Collins’ reelection bid, already the toughest she’s faced in her career.
Recent GOP internal polls show Collins competitive on a head-to-head ballot, but falling further behind after the ranked-choice voting process.
Watch the entire debate below. Collins’ remarks about ranked-choice voting begin around the 22-minute mark.
Kevin Robillard contributed reporting.