State election workers forged new ground Friday when the process of counting ranked-choice voting kicked off with political observers hovering to ensure they do it right. In Augusta, workers loaded information from memory sticks to computers while others fed paper ballots through a tabulator capable of counting 300 ballots a minute. That process will continue until early next week, when all the ballot information is finally loaded into the system. Then, a keystroke or two on a single laptop computer will compute the first-round totals in a matter of moments.
That will answer questions about whether the four relevant races will require ranked-choice voting. At present, unofficial returns compiled by media outlets indicate that ranked-choice tallying will be necessary in at least two contests — the Democratic gubernatorial primary and the Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District.
In the latter race, early returns compiled by the Bangor Daily News show that Jared Golden of Lewiston garnered 49.2 percent of the vote. The threshold to trigger ranked-choice tallying is 50 percent. Lucas St. Clair of Hampden earned about 41 percent of the vote while Craig Olson of Islesboro earned about 9 percent.
Ballots and voting information from about 300 towns had been delivered by private courier to Augusta by Friday morning, with most of the remaining 203 expected by the end of the day. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said it is expected that a few ballot deliveries will take until Monday, but that any delays could stop the whole tallying process.