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Maine voting system threatens Collins in closing days of tight Senate race

CUMBERLAND, Maine – Sara Gideon, her voice hoarse on a cold Friday night, stood in the center of a fairground scene like the headline of a rally behind the wheel, making a closing speech to a choir of horns from car and headlights appreciating a Democrat-dominated government that would act aggressively to tackle climate change, economic and racial inequalities and runaway health care costs.

A day earlier, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, had crossed the state in her signature campaign bus with a very different message, highlighting the billions of dollars she had directed to Maine businesses during the pandemic and her life of connections made across state, barely mentioning President Trump or his party leaders as she played her mark of moderate pragmatist.

The appearances reflected the contrast between the two women leading the most expensive Senate race in Maine history. That has hardly changed since Ms Gideon entered the fray more than 16 months ago, hoping to capitalize on Liberal anger against Mr Trump and outrage over Ms Collins’ vote for confirm Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to deny the Republican senator a fifth term.

But thanks to a presidential impeachment trial, a deadly pandemic, and yet another historically partisan Supreme Court confirmation battle, neither candidate has been able to maintain a consistent advantage in the race. Instead, due to a relatively new voting system in Maine, the outcome of the contest – and potentially the balance of power in the Senate – may not revert to who voters in Maine nominate first, but to who they appoint second.

Tuesday’s contest will likely be the first time Maine has counted second choices in a Senate race using a ranked choice voting system that has been in place since 2018. It allows voters to list a second candidate and counts those preferences as votes if no one reaches 50% when the first choice votes are tallied. The system could prove particularly dangerous for Ms Collins – who, like Ms Gideon, has consistently fallen below 50% in public polls in recent months – because Lisa Savage, a progressive who presents herself as independent in the race , urged her supporters to list Ms. Gideon second.

“It’s obviously a very close race, but I feel the momentum is breaking me,” Ms. Collins said Thursday, after munching on an ice cream cone as she completed a series of rainy business tours. local in two counties. “My goal is to get 50% on election day, and ranked choice voting wouldn’t come into play. So that’s what I’m hoping for.

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But there is little evidence Ms Collins has been able to take the lead in recent weeks. Even after she became the only Republican to break with her party and Mr. Trump last week to vote against Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, citing the proximity of the election, voters appeared unmoved. In statewide interviews, his supporters and opponents both felt it was a necessary political move to woo moderate voters, with Democrats noting that it did nothing to affect the result.

“It’s hard to ruin your party, and I give it credit for it,” said Lara Rosen, 39, who was packed in her car with a cup of haddock chowder and her 5-year-old son Isaac Rosen. -Murray. to support Mrs. Gideon. “It’s not enough. It’s not the only thing I care about.

Maine first rolled out its statewide ranked choice voting system two years ago, allowing voters to rank their preferences instead of choosing a single candidate. If the election ends without any candidate reaching at least 50%, the one with the fewest votes is eliminated and these ballots are redistributed to the remaining candidates according to the voters’ second choice. The elimination process continues until a candidate has passed the threshold of majority.

The system, which is also used in Australia, Ireland and in the race for the best Oscar picture, proved to be prominent in Maine’s second congressional district in 2018. After garnering more votes as a second or third choice, Jared Golden, a Democrat, Unelected Representative Bruce Poliquin, a Republican who had been the first choice of more voters. (Independent Senator Angus King who is Caucasian with Democrats easily crossed the bar with over 54% of the vote that year.)

“It’s not as simple as you might think – there is no clear political flow from candidates from small parties to candidates from the majority,” said Daniel M. Shea, professor of government at Colby College. and senior researcher on college polls. of the Senate race. In the college’s final poll, which called the race a “statistical overheating,” a brash businessman Max Linn won 1.7% of the vote while Ms Savage, a teacher linked to the Maine Green Independent Party, got 4.7%, behind Ms Gideon at 46.6% and Ms Collins at 43.4%. The poll had a 3.3% margin of error.

Mr Linn, an often belligerent presence in the debate who cut off surgical masks in the middle of an exchange to illustrate opposition to a mask warrant, said in an interview that he is not working to influence his supporters who ranked second on their ballot. But Ms Savage, who supports several progressive causes like Medicare for all and a Green New Deal, has built her campaign in part around explaining choice voting – and urging her supporters to “vote blue # 2” and direct their secondary votes to Mrs. Gideon.

“Our platform and our issues are what most young voters resonate with, but they say, ‘I don’t believe in electoral politics; I don’t think it changes anything; I’m not very inclined to vote, ”Ms. Savage said on Saturday. She was sitting at a table at the Portland Farmers’ Market that offered condoms branded “Medicare for all”, rainbow “Lisa for Maine” pins and several explanations of the voting system. “So now our pitch to them is, ‘But we have a choice vote. It amplifies the power of your vote, ”she said.

Ms Savage stressed that she was not seeking to undermine Ms Gideon in her attempt to overthrow Ms Collins, but rather to help attract otherwise reluctant, young and rookie voters who were bewildered by the bitter and suspicious campaign that Ms Gideon did was not liberal enough. Many experts say Ms Savage’s supporters could tip the scales and give Ms Gideon a victory.

“We want to send a signal to Democrats that we are part of the ‘Susan Collins’ retirement team with them,” Ms. Savage said. Her campaign, she added, approached Ms Gideon’s team with suggesting that women campaign for the other second, but have not received a response. (During an appearance at Bates College on Friday, Ms Gideon told reporters she would encourage her constituents to consider ranking Ms Savage second.)

But in search of a clear path to victory, Ms Collins and Ms Gideon plunged into a wave of last-minute campaigns, distributing bumps and platitudes in a bid to galvanize their supporters and persuade the remaining undecided voters. of State. The Colby College poll found that 3.6% of the 879 probable voters polled had not made a decision.

“There are a lot of people who have made up their minds, some of whom may have made up their minds 10 months ago, and some of whom have been to this place in the past two months,” Ms. Gideon said during a stopover at a logging site in Oxford County, as machines felled trees behind her. “I think there are people who still don’t know what to do. They think about the balance between the presidential election and the Senate, and they have a hard time figuring out exactly who is going to do what or who did what.

During a four-day tour of the state, Ms. Gideon frequently summoned the specter of Mr. Trump and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, to present the race in national terms and to argue that it was vital for Democrats to control the White House and Congress set the agenda in Washington.

For her part, Ms Collins spent the final days of the campaign highlighting the financial support she had given to small businesses across the state by championing the Paycheck Protection Program, a popular federal lending program which her campaign said channeled more than $ 2.3 billion to nearly 30,000. companies.

Ultimately, his final presentation for a fifth term depends on voters who still appreciate the power of a Maine vote in first place on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which allocates federal spending; the few remaining split-ticket voters in the state like Bill Green, a retired reporter and longtime Maine TV member.

Mr Green, a registered Democrat who voted for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential candidate, endorsed Ms Collins in a series of campaign announcements.

“She went to work every day, and whoever elected president, Susan Collins worked with him,” he said. “It’s her job to go out there and do the best job she can for Maine, to hold his nose and work with the guy.”

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