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History in the Making as Maine's New Ranked Choice Voting Likely to Decide Key Congressional Race

"If this reform were implemented throughout the country, it should result in a House of Representatives that actually looks and thinks like America."

Rep. Bruce Poliquin's (R-Maine) race to retain his House seat against Democrat Jared Golden will likely be the first national race in U.S. history to be decided via ranked choice voting. (Photo: JLeahMitchell/BradWGME/Twitter)

Maine is on the verge of making history as it appears the state's new ranked choice voting system—in use this year for the first time—will be needed in order to determine the ultimate winner of a too-close-to-call race for the U.S. House.

As of Wednesday afternoon, incumbentRep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) had exactly 46 percent of the vote while Democratic challenger Jared Golden held 45.9 percent. Eighty-one percent of voting precincts had reported their results. Two independents, Tiffany Bond and William Hoar, had captured 5.7 and 2.4 percent of the vote respectively.

Under the state's ranked choice voting (RCV) system, which voters approved for state-wide elections by referendum in June, Mainers are able to rank congressional candidates in order of preference.

A candidate must capture at least 50 percent of the vote for a race to be called for him or her. With neither Poliquin nor Golden appearing to have gathered a decisive majority of votes, votes for Bond and Hoar will likely be distributed to those voters' second and third choices until either the Republican or Democrat has 50 percent.

The use of RCV to elect a national candidate will ensure for the first time that voters in the 2nd Congressional District are represented fairly, advocates say, as whoever wins the instant run-off election will have been at least the second or third choice of most voters.

On Twitter, the electoral reform group Fair Vote highlighted a number of other races around the country in which voters will now be represented by senators and House members who had the approval of less than half of their constituents—or will have to hold new elections in order to name a winner.

As Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens wrote in The American Prospect last week, ranked-choice voting in congressional and Senate races would improve voter enthusiasm and turnout and fundamentally change how Americans are represented by their elected officials.

As Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens wrote in The American Prospect last week, ranked-choice voting in congressional races would improve voter enthusiasm and turnout nationwide while fundamentally changing how both constituents and candidates approach election-year decisions.

"If this reform were implemented throughout the country, it should result in a House of Representatives that actually looks and thinks like America," they wrote. "It would be a House that represents all views and all demographic characteristics in close proportion to their shares in the whole adult population of the United States."

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