Waiting game drags on as Maine adjusts to ranked-choice voting

Good morning from Augusta, where by now there should be a substantial pile amassing of ballots and other materials from Tuesday’s primary election. But that does not mean we’ll have declared winners before next week.

A private courier service collected ballots from all over Maine yesterday and was due to start delivering them in the afternoon, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Counting starts today. Concurrently, there will be a drawn-out and highly supervised process of opening ballot boxes and unpacking computer memory sticks. Then, it will be a day — or days — of entering ballots and data into computers and watching them spit out results.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has said not to expect results until next week, but even he doesn’t really know what to expect. A statewide ranked-choice vote is the first for Maine and indeed, the nation. There will be some drama here as the first round of counting concludes, and then the second and third rounds, if they are necessary to push candidates to majority support. Dunlap, a Democrat, has said that even though his office isn’t required to certify results for 20 days, there will be periodic updates as the counting goes on. We’ll keep you posted.

There is only ranked-choice drama surrounding the Democratic governor’s race. Two races look to have avoided ranked-choice counting: Businessman Shawn Moody stormed his party’s field to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination and it looks like Joshua Morris won an outright majority in the three-way race for a House of Representatives seat in Turner, Leeds and part of Livermore.

But the seven-way Democratic gubernatorial primary led by Attorney General Janet Mills and attorney Adam Cote is uncertain, while the Democratic 2nd Congressional District primary really isn’t. Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden has effectively beaten Lucas St. Clair, but looks to have fallen just shy of an outright majority and will likely get it quickly in the first ranked-choice counting round.

Drip. Drip. Drip. That’s the sound of election results trickling in from far-off corners in Maine. This was one of the toughest elections in recent memory to get election results from cities and towns, some of which were delayed by ranked-choice voting. We’ve been following up with them since Wednesday. To dig into those results, check on how your community voted or just admire colorful maps, click here.

Likely Democratic congressional nominee faces money hurdle

It’s a side effect of ranked-choice voting. Golden hasn’t declared victory in the race to unseat U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, St. Clair hasn’t exactly conceded and no media outlet has called the race, but Golden is pretty much ensured to win. But since he’s not the nominee yet, he’s in a period of limbo.

He can’t spend money raised for the primary and he also can’t spend money raised for the general election until he’s declared the winner, said Jon Breed, Golden’s campaign manager. Golden can raise money for the general election and could be able to borrow against that to fund expenses in the interim, Breed said.

It’s a new side effect of ranked-choice voting, because although campaign finance law does allow candidates to set up funds for recount expenses, it doesn’t apply to Golden’s status right now. All of this is a small hurdle to his run against the well-funded Republican incumbent.

Reading list

  • They’re coming back. Votes aren’t technically due until 1 p.m. today, but legislative leaders say virtually everyone supports launching a special legislative session on Tuesday to move bills that were left undone when the regular session adjourned in early May. It’s a bit unclear how long the session will go, but House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, are aiming for three days plus an expected veto day. Their intention is to enact spending bills on the first day in case Gov. Paul LePage line-item vetoes them within the 24 hours he is allowed under the law. That would allow the Legislature to vote to override or sustain the line-item vetoes without extending the session further.
  • Democrats had more enthusiasm to vote in Maine’s primaries than Republicans did. Or, at least a higher percentage of them voted. We crunched the numbers and they show that about 33 percent of registered Republicans voted on Tuesday, compared to 38 percent of Democrats. That’s pretty typical for the party that doesn’t currently have a governor in the Blaine House, but Democrats weren’t nearly as enthusiastic as Republicans were in 2010.
  • Employers in Maine won’t have to pay for medical marijuana used by workers or former workers to treat job-related injuries. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled 5-2 on Thursday that federal law — which still criminalizes marijuana possession — supersedes the state law that allows medical professionals to prescribe marijuana as part of a treatment plan. The case involved a former Madawaska paper mill employee who injured his back in 1989 and who sued Twin Rivers Paper Co. in an attempt to have workers compensation pay for medical marijuana, which he said was cheaper and better at managing chronic pain than opioids.
  • A steep decrease in the number of foreign exchange students from Asia is whacking Maine schools in the wallet. Lee Academy, a 173-year-old private academy that made infrastructure investments to attract tuition students from Asia, announced this week that it would cut staff to fill a budget hole created by a drop in the number of foreign students. The cuts allowed the school to close a projected $1 million budget gap to the point where it can apply for a loan from the Finance Authority of Maine and is part of a major financial restructuring, according to school officials. In April, Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield announced it would be “reducing” some faculty, staff and administrative positions and cutting its freshman basketball program as well as fall and winter cheerleading amid a decline in interest from international students.

They built boats but had no clue how to pilot them

Since fall, my son and several of his classmates have participated in Maine Maritime Museum’s boat-building program. Instead of going to school on Wednesdays, they have gone to the museum and crafted two wooden boats from the ground up. Yesterday was launch day and I’m happy to report that neither boat sank.

Just about every Wednesday evening, I asked my kid what they did that day in class, and usually heard “we were sanding all day” or “we put literally one board on.”

On Thursday, the participants strapped on personal floatation devices and took the brand new vessels on their maiden voyages with dozens of parents, community members and classmates watching. It immediately looked like a Three Stooges episode. Most of the students had clearly never handled oars and soon, the two boats were 100 yards away and being blown further by a stiff breeze.

“Come back!” was shouted across the water more than once and someone kept singing “a threeee hour tooouuur.” Oh wait, that was me.

There was some genuine concern as the boats grew more distant, making curly Q’s across the water. One of the oars ended up in the lake and there was a hilarious attempt to retrieve it. Students were paddling with their hands. Organizers launched a pontoon rescue vessel, but the students figured it out enough to return on their own, with no capsizing.

The building process was meticulous, resulting in some truly beautiful watercraft. But the program was sorely lacking any instruction about piloting or navigation. They could have done that with a simple song playing on a loop. Here’s their soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

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.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.