Why ranked-choice voting could come back to bite Democrats in November

Good morning from Augusta. We’re here today to game out how ranked-choice voting could make a safe Democratic Maine congressional seat interesting in 2018 with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District now facing challenges from a Republican and a former Democrat.

Ranked-choice voting, which Maine voters passed in 2016 after an effort spearheaded by a coalition of independents and progressives that is also running a June people’s veto effort to nix a law that could delay the method, appears to put state Rep. Martin Grohman, I-Biddeford, who qualified for the ballot last week, in an interesting position in this race.

It’s worth saying that Pingree, a fifth-term congresswoman, would be the heavy favorite if the election were held today. She likely will be in November as well. A lot has to happen to make this seat change. Here’s what does.

Grohman has to become the “Republican” candidate. Pingree’s race wasn’t looking interesting before Grohman entered. The Republican who she beat in 2016, Brunswick counselor Mark Holbrook, filed for a rematch early last year. In a good year for Republicans, he got 42 percent of votes in a one-on-one race against Pingree after narrowly winning his primary.

The interesting thing about that race is that 42 percent may be a bit of a floor for Republicans in a good year for the party in the Democratic-leaning 1st District. In the Republican wave year of 2010, Dean Scontras got 42 percent of votes against Pingree.

In 2018, Grohman needs to overtake Holbrook among Republicans, sort of like what happened with Democrat Cynthia Dill in the 2012 U.S. Senate race where she got only 13 percent of votes and independent Angus King was the choice of most Democrats and won easily.

He also has to push down Pingree, which could be the bigger challenge. King won 51 percent of votes in that 2012 race against four other opponents, with Republican Charlie Summers as the distant runner-up at 29 percent in a good Democratic year. If Pingree wins a majority or anything close to a majority, ranked-choice voting probably won’t help Grohman.

The path to victory comes if he could drag Pingree below 40 percent in the first round of ranked-choice voting and finish in a reasonably close second place with Holbrook as a distant third. Then, he would hope that Holbrook’s voters largely picked him as the second choice.

This is going to be difficult, as state Democrats look to be a bit concerned about Grohman. The Maine Democratic Party put out a strikingly negative statement after he announced on Tuesday that he had qualified for the ballot, hitting him in part for minimum wage votes that he took flak from progressives on when he was a Democratic legislator.

The bottom line is that ranked-choice voting could help candidates who would have finished second in the past win. The effort for ranked-choice voting certainly drew some support from the two elections of Gov. Paul LePage, who won only 38 percent of votes in 2010 and nearly won a majority in 2014. (We think he may have lost in 2010 in a ranked-choice race.)

But it’s clear that the system can cut both ways on a partisan basis. Republicans have opposed it all along and while some Democrats have been wary, most have overwhelmingly backed it. This race will be interesting to watch as a potential flip side to LePage’s election.

Key campaign deadlines loom

Tuesday was a financial reporting deadline for state candidates, who must begin reporting large donations and expenditures within 24 hours today. Maine gubernatorial and legislative candidates and political committees have until Friday to file campaign finance reports through Tuesday. It will be our first look at the campaign books in the the seven-way Democratic gubernatorial primary and the four-way Republican gubernatorial primary since April 25. Today also marks the 13th day before the June 12 primary, so campaigns and committees must report contributions and expenditures aggregating to $1,000 or more within 24 hours.

Congressional candidates have a deadline later this week. Maine’s partisan congressional candidates have until Thursday to file updated campaign finance reports through May 23. They have had to report contributions of $1,000 or more within 48 hours since May 24, similar to the state requirement. We’ll be watching conservationist Lucas St. Clair and Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, the two top Democratic candidates who are looking to take on U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in November.

Independents must also make the state ballot by Friday. Unenrolled candidates have until June 1 to qualify for Maine ballots. Grohman has made the 1st District ballot, Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes is on the gubernatorial ballot and more than a dozen independent legislative candidates have qualified so far, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Poliquin hosts forum on opioid addiction

Hospital officials, law enforcement officers, municipal officials, state lawmakers, community addiction specialists and others will meet today. They will convene at 9:30 a.m. today at the Bangor Area Recovery Network at 142 Center Street in Brewer. The event is part of Poliquin’s Operation Community SAFER, which stands for Supporting Area Families to Enable Recovery. The Republican who represents Maine’s 2nd District hosts the forums “to better educate and engage Maine leaders, communities and families in evidence-based prevention, treatment and recovery.”

Reading list

  • The Maine Department of Health and Human Services quietly overhauled its emergency response system. In a series of changes that received scant public mention, the department replaced a crisis response service provider in western Maine, centralized its emergency hotline response team and changed the way it pays contracted providers. The changes that took effect earlier this spring have been in the works since 2015, with delays partially attributed to legal challenges to some previous contract awards.
  • A federal judge rebuffed a Maine Republican Party challenge to ranked-choice voting. In a decision released Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy rejected Republican claims that the voter-approved ranked-choice election system violates their constitutional right to free association. Levy sided with attorneys for Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, ruling that allowing Republicans to nominate their gubernatorial and legislative candidates with a plurality instead of the ranked system would create disruption and inequity in the state’s electoral system.
  • The Maine Democratic Party is named in a Federal Elections Commission complaint alleging presidential campaign finance shenanigans in 2016. Maine Public reports that Dan Backer, attorney for the Committee to Defend the President, in December filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission alleging $84 million in illegal donations to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It repeats past allegations that the Maine Democratic Party and similar organizations in 32 other states accepted campaign contributions, then funneled the money illegally to the Clinton campaign. Backer’s FEC complaint shows over $2.4 million was transferred from the Hillary Victory Fund to the Maine Democratic Party, and then almost immediately to the DNC. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that the Maine Democratic Party was named in a lawsuit that Backer has filed against the FEC.
  • A political gadfly is campaigning for U.S. Senate even though he’s been disqualified from the race. Max Linn, a financial planner from Bar Harbor, was ejected from the Republican primary to challenge independent U.S. Sen. Angus King earlier this month when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld a lower court’s ruling, based on a number of faulty signatures on his ballot access paperwork. However, he’s still putting up campaign signs and sending mailers. Here is his soundtrack. The Maine Republican Party says Linn can do what he wants but the candidate they recognize is state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn. Linn’s name appears on the ballot but any votes for him will be counted as blanks. Zak Ringelstein of Portland is the only Democrat on his party’s U.S. Senate primary ballot.
  • Long-time Maine organic potato farmers have filed for bankruptcy protection. Megan and Jim Gerritsen, who sold their Wood Prairie Family Farm in Bridgewater to their son two years ago, declared $460,000 in debt in a March Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. Almost half of that sum is due to the U.S. Department of Agriculture following a court battle Jim Gerritsen waged over the department’s organic certification program. Gerritsen blames crop losses in 2011 and 2013 for triggering their financial problems.

Get creative

We could not think of a smart, funny or insightful way to end today’s Daily Brief, so we fell back on our old standby: Look up what “National Day of [whatever]” it is. Ironically, today is the inaugural National Day of Creativity.

Hal Croasmun and ScreenwritingU are launching the National Day of Creativity this year to “celebrate the imaginative spirits everywhere and to encourage them to keep creating,” according to nationalcalendarday.com.

How might one do that? Coming up with a creative way to celebrate the National Day of Creativity — one that involves paid time off and beer — would be a start. Or maybe finding a way to combine two other observances today — National Mint Julep Day and My Bucket’s Got a Hole in it Day — to create something like National Bucket of Mint Juleps Day. Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.