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Biden picks up 1 of Maine's 4 electoral votes

By PATRICK WHITTLE Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A historic election took place in Maine, where voters used a ranked choice voting system to determine the state’s electoral votes for the first time in U.S. history.

Voters were allowed to rank Republican President Donald Trump, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Libertarian nominee Jo Jorgensen, Green nominee Howie Hawkins and Alliance nominee Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente on Tuesday. The ranked votes will come into play if no candidate cracks 50% of the vote.

Maine has four electoral votes — a small number, but enough to make a big difference in a close election. The statewide vote is worth two, but Maine is also one of two states that apportions electoral votes by congressional district, worth one each. The 1st Congressional District is heavily Democratic, but Trump won the 2nd Congressional District by a wide margin in 2016.

Biden picked up one electoral vote, winning Maine’s 1st Congressional District. The statewide and 2nd Congressional District’s electoral votes haven’t been called. It’s possible that one or both of those contests could be decided by the ranked count.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. Election Day looked different in Maine this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and many Mainers already had voted. All told, more than 500,000 had voted by absentee ballot before Tuesday, but there were still long lines in some locations.

In Portland, volunteers gave away hand warmers as the temperature hovered in the upper 30s and a line snaked around a building at one polling location. Many waited more than an hour to vote but said it was worth it to ensure that their ballots didn’t get lost in the mail.

“I chose to vote in person because even though I trust our system and trust absentee voting, I still feel like I’m not taking any risks at all. If I have to stand in line, I stand in line,” said Jennifer Davies, 52, of Portland, as flakes floated down. “And now it’s snowing!”

The state has run ahead of most of the country in terms of use of absentee ballots. The volume of absentee ballots cast by late October was more than a third of the 2016 turnout, while nationally it was equal to about a quarter of the 2016 turnout.

“If there’s one thing that people can agree on, advocates of the progressive left or the far right, I think they agree the stakes are incredibly high in this election,” said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at University of Maine.

Ranked choice voting, approved by Maine voters in 2016, is often called an “instant runoff” since the goal is to achieve a majority winner without a second, runoff election.

But there’s nothing instant about the process in Maine. If there’s no majority winner, then all of the ballots will be shipped to Augusta and entered into a computer for additional tabulations. That process takes about a week.

The views on ranked choice voting have become partisan in Maine, especially after 2018, when Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was ousted in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District under the system, even though he had the most first-round votes.

The Maine Republican Party launched a petition drive aimed at stopping the expansion of the voting system to the presidential contest through a “People’s Veto” referendum. The GOP then unsuccessfully sued after coming up shy of the necessary signatures, and was rejected twice by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and once by the U.S. Supreme Court. The final rejection came after the first votes already had been cast.

Also on the ballot Tuesday was a high-profile senate race featuring Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon and independents Max Linn and Lisa Savage. Ranked choice voting could come into play in the multi-candidate race.

Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree successfully defended her 1st Congressional District seat, defeating Republican Jay Allen. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden faced former state Rep. Dale Crafts, a Republican, in the 2nd Congressional District. That race was still uncalled early Wednesday.

Maine is the only state to approve ranked voting for statewide races, and its constitutionality has twice been upheld by a federal judge in Maine. It was used for the first time in U.S. House and U.S. Senate races in 2018 in Maine. But it isn’t used in state gubernatorial or legislative races because of concerns that it runs afoul of the Maine Constitution.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.