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Bad Legal Precedent Used to Challenge Maine Election Result

The incorrect ruling of Baker v. Carr will be used to challenge the results of a ranked choice voting election for House District 2 in Maine.

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Jack Shields | United States

According to NPR, the incumbent Representative for Maine’s Second Congressional District, Bruce Poliquin (R), is attempting to claim victory through the courts in an election he clearly lost. Maine uses ranked choice voting for their U.S. House of Representatives elections. This means that instead of picking just one candidate, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If the first round is completed and no candidate has above 50% of the vote, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated and those who voted for him have their votes go to their next ranked, non-eliminated choice. When the first round results were tallied, Poliquin was in first place with 46.2% of the vote, while his Democratic challenger, Jared Golden, trailed with 45.5% of the vote, and two independents; Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar carried 5.8% and 2.4% respectively.

In the second round, Bond and Hoar were eliminated and their votes were transferred to the voters’ second choices. The second round concluded with Golden earning a razor-thin victory over Poliquin: 50.53% to 49.47%. However, Poliquin is arguing that ranked choice voting is an unconstitutional violation of the ‘one person, one vote’ doctrine established in Baker v. Carr (1962). Even with the Carr ruling as precedent, Poliquin has no real chance or logic behind his Hail Mary lawsuit. However, the real issue is Carr in and of itself is an unconstitutional overreach by an activist court into the legislative and political domain, and should be overturned.

The issue in Carr was a requirement in Tennessee’s constitution requiring the reapportionment of seats in their state senate and general assembly every ten years starting in 1871. But when Charles W. Baker brought his suit to court, it had been over five decades since 1901 yet the state was still using the 1901 reapportionment law, despite population increases, thus severely over-representing rural districts.  Baker argued this made some people’s vote count more than others and was therefore a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th amendment. The Supreme Court agreed, declaring that the 14th amendment guarantees the ‘one person, one vote’ right where each vote should hold as much weight as any other vote. This precedent is unfortunately still in force today.

Even under the Carr precedent, Poliquin has no real case. The Court ruled that each vote ought to carry equal weight. The Court did not rule that votes cannot be transferred. Just because the vote was now for Golden rather than Bond or Hoar, doesn’t mean it was somehow magically more or less important. One vote equals one vote regardless of whom the vote was for. The only serious way he could argue the votes in the first round were weighed differently than votes in the second round is the fact that according to Ballotpedia, there were 284,455 votes in the first round and 275,557 votes in the second round. This may be because some people didn’t put a second choice when they voted, and therefore their vote was not transferred into the second round. While mathematically this means a vote in the second round held roughly 3.2% more weight of the total vote than in the first round, this is not actually evidence that it was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. No voter was prohibited from selecting a second choice, which would deny them equal protection under the law. Those who did not select a second choice candidate chose not to on their own accord. In some cases, not voting is just as much as a vote as actually voting in terms of the effects it has on the election. This does not mean that it unconstitutionally swings the election. There is no legitimate legal argument for Poliquin. Golden is the new representative for the people of Maine’s Second District.

When examining the actual Carr decision, it is clear the Court overstepped its boundaries. The lower courts determined that because this was an issue of a state constitution, a state reapportionment law, and a state legislature, this was not an issue which the federal courts had any jurisdiction. But because the Supreme Court determined there was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Federal Constitution, the federal courts had jurisdiction. This would be true if there was a violation of the Federal Constitution, but it is clear there is no violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The 14th amendment was ratified in 1868 and was specifically designed to protect the rights of newly freed slaves. The point of the Equal Protection Clause was so, for example, a state could not demand that a black man pay $100 in taxes while a white man only had to pay $50 in taxes. Laws now had to be equally applied without race-based, and later sex-based discrimination. However, this has nothing to do with elections and the weight of a vote. Both then and now, the President is elected through the Electoral College, which goes completely against the idea of ‘one man, one vote.’ As reported by the Huffington Post, in the 2016 election a vote in Wyoming held 3.6 times more weight than a vote in California. The 14th amendment did not repeal the Electoral College. In fact, it had so little to do with voting that the 15th amendment had to be passed in order to let the black men the 14th amendment was attempting to protect get to vote. The Equal Protection Clause had nothing to do with voting, meaning it is in no way an adequate excuse for federal overreach into a state issue; making this is an unconstitutional precedent that ought to be overturned at the next available opportunity.


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