Five big problems with the testimony of Poliquin’s ranked choice expert witness

Rep. Bruce Poliquin. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

In the continuing saga of Bruce Poliquin’s efforts to overturn the results of the November election in Maine’s Second Congressional District, a new player emerged.

In the second court proceeding on ranked choice before Trump appointed federal judge Lance Walker, testimony by Poliquin’s expert witness, Prof. James Gimpel, took up most of the time.

But there were five problems for Poliquin’s case from his expert witness.

First, the expert witness is not an expert on ranked choice voting.
Professor Gimpel is a fine scholar, but his expertise is on other aspects of campaigns and elections. He has not published any scholarly research on ranked choice voting or on election systems.

While there are not large numbers of scholars who have done research on ranked choice voting, there are some who are in fact experts, as shown by their multiple peer-reviewed publications on ranked choice.

Second, Prof. Gimpel noted that his expertise is in survey research but he had no survey data or any other opinion data on voters in this race.
While Gimpel had no data on ME-2 voters, he resorted to speculation, claiming that the voters who did not rank Bruce Poliquin or Jared Golden at all were unaware that by choosing only Tiffany Bond and/or Will Hoar, their votes would not end up in the instant runoff round. Gimpel speculated that these voters thought that Bond and/or Hoar, neither of whom ran a single ad, would be one of the top two finishers.

At one point Gimpel acknowledged that “It would be ideal to go and talk to” such voters but he hadn’t. Gimpel also said he didn’t know anything about the exit poll conducted by the Bangor Daily News with several partners.

All in all, he was making claims about voters without any opinion data. And his implication that all voters expect that their votes would go to one of the top two finishers doesn’t comport with what happens in many other elections.

Third, Prof. Gimpel was unaware of how ME-2 voters voted in previous elections, so he had no point of comparison for his claims.
During cross-examination, Gimpel was asked about data showing that there was a lower rate of undervotes in the 2014 and 2016 congressional contests in the district than in 2018. This suggested more voter engagement in 2018, undermining his claim that voters were experiencing confusion.

His lack of knowledge about other elections and Maine’s traditions of independent voters and candidates weakened his testimony.

Fourth, Prof. Gimpel’s testimony contradicted a key element of Poliquin’s legal case.
Poliquin’s briefs include complaints by voters who voted just for Poliquin and didn’t rank anyone else. These voters said they didn’t think ranked choice was fair to them, claiming the system diluted their votes.

But during cross-examination, Gimpel was asked if Poliquin voters were disenfranchised. Gimpel accurately replied that all votes for Poliquin were included in the final tally. Thus they clearly were not disenfranchised.

Fifth, the voters Prof. Gimpel claimed were confused and thus disenfranchised haven’t complained about the system.
During cross-examination, Gimpel was shown an ad placed by Republicans to find voters who voted for Bond and/or Hoar and not Golden or Poliquin to try to get these voters to sign onto Poliquin’s case. None came forward.

Gimpel said these voters didn’t complain about being confused for several reasons. One was that they didn’t want to admit they were confused. Another was that they didn’t know they were confused.

However, he had no data to show this was true. And the lack of such plaintiffs, along with Gimpel’s claim that these particular voters were disenfranchised, meant the Poliquin case’s expert contradicted Poliquin’s legal pleadings, which focused voters who just picked Poliquin.

To be sure, Judge Walker’s decision will rely on more than this expert testimony.

Constitutional arguments will be critical.

However, it is hard to see how the testimony helps Poliquin’s case.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.