By Jim Ellis
June 21, 2018 — Even in the age of advanced technology, vote counting can be a surprisingly long process. Despite political primaries being conducted weeks ago in California (June 5) and Maine (June 12), as of this writing, election officials still have not determined a winner, or second general election qualifier, in at least three campaigns.
In California, the 48th Congressional District’s second general election qualifier remains undeclared. There, Democratic businessmen Harley Rouda and Hans Keirstead are fighting to determine which of the two will advance from a pool of 15 candidates challenging veteran Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa).
On election night, Rohrabacher clinched first place with 30.3 percent of the vote over the field of 15, while Rouda placed second. With the California process being notoriously slow because of the large number of mail ballots that must be counted and are allowed to be postmarked the day of the election and received through that following Friday, it appeared evident that the substantial number of outstanding votes could well change the outcome for the second place qualifier. Hence, the abnormally long post-election process began.
Today, the official count, though still not complete, now finds Rouda re-capturing second place, this time by a scant 69 votes of the more than 173,000 votes cast, counted, and recorded district-wide, and the 57,285 ballots divided only between Rouda and Keirstead.
The election officials estimate that approximately 4,500 ballots remain uncounted in District 48, which is fully contained within Orange County. Countywide, the unprocessed ballot total still numbers over 34,000 a full three weeks after the election.
Regardless of how this race preliminarily ends, the final result will almost assuredly advance into a recount, which will consume even more time and eventually money if the losing candidate wants to keep counting. In large elections of this type, with a difference of so few separating a pair of candidates as compared to so many being cast, recounts can change the outcome.
In this instance, however, because the original count has dragged on so long, an exaggerated recount process could tie up the eventual Democratic challenger for close to two months of the general election campaign. This is a clear advantage for Rohrabacher, who can work unencumbered to repair some of his base leakage that was evident in the June 5 primary.
Because the state of Maine often features Independent candidates who can win or become major factors in elections, voters adopted a primary and general election run-off system to ensure that a candidate finishing first receives majority support. This procedure is different because the voter never leaves the polling place to conduct the secondary election. Operational for the first time this year, Pine Tree State voters are instructed to vote for the candidate of their choice for each office. If the contest features more than two candidates, they then rank the candidates they did not choose.
On June 12, Democratic gubernatorial primary voters decided among eight open race candidates. Finishing first was appointed Attorney General Janet Mills with 33 percent, while businessman Adam Cote was second with a close 28 percent. The six others finished between 16 and one percent. Now, this “instant run-off” takes effect, though it is proving not to be so “instant.” A full week after the votes were cast, no winner is yet declared.
Once it is clear that no candidate is going to top 50 percent, the system requires the state election officials to drop the last place finisher. The ballots choosing the candidate finishing last as the first choice, in this case ex-Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion, are then found, and the new votes are distributed to the remaining contenders per the ranking that those voters determined. If all candidates are still below 50 percent, the new last-place finisher is dropped and the process begins again. The progression continues in this fashion until a candidate receives majority support.
With scanning problems found in five towns, the ranked counts are still continuing. It is possible a winner will be determined as early as today, but the final culmination still remains unclear. On the Republican side, businessman Shawn Moody won outright on June 12, so he is already actively campaigning for the general election. Incumbent Gov. Paul LePage (R), himself a two-term winner though never receiving majority support, is ineligible to run again.
A ranked count is also underway in the 2nd Congressional District’s Democratic primary. Since first-place finisher Jared Golden, a state representative and military veteran, scored 49 percent against two opponents, it is highly likely he will win the instant run-off once last-place finisher Craig Olson’s ranked votes are distributed and recorded. He will then challenge two-term Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Oakland/Bangor) in what promises to be a competitive general election.