Ranked Choice Voting litmus test in Maine could pave way for other states

Rep. Bruce Poliquin was the first choice of many voters in his bid for re-election in Maine’s second house district, with more than 2,000 more votes than his closest opponent. But unfortunately for him, he was not the voters’ second choice. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” lamented Poliquin. Crazy, he says, because his … Continue reading “Ranked Choice Voting litmus test in Maine could pave way for other states”

Rep. Bruce Poliquin was the first choice of many voters in his bid for re-election in Maine’s second house district, with more than 2,000 more votes than his closest opponent.

But unfortunately for him, he was not the voters’ second choice. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” lamented Poliquin. Crazy, he says, because his Democratic opponent, Jared Golden, has been declared the winner.

Poliquin's loss is the first test of Maine's new election tabulation process called Ranked Choice Voting, under which voters can prioritize a crowded field of candidates – from favorite to least favorite.

If no candidate wins a majority, as happened with Poliquin, they eliminate the last place finisher and take his or her second-choice picks and distribute them among the remaining candidates. That process is then repeated until someone gets over 50 percent of the vote.

Some call it instant runoff, and it is gaining popularity across the country.

Adam Friedman is pushing a ranked choice voting proposal in Massachusetts. “With Ranked Choice Voting, you actually get to vote honestly, rather than strategically,” Friedman explained.

In crowded fields, Friedman went on, voters often won’t vote for the candidate they like best because they’re afraid that the candidate they like least may be elected.

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When asked if Poliquin’s loss was fair, Friedman was certain. “It actually is fair,” he told Fox News, “because Ranked Choice Voting ensures that the winner has the majority of the district’s support, not merely one faction or one tribe.”

Poliquin doesn’t see it that way. “For 200 years in the state of Maine, we've had one person have one vote,” he said. “It's not complicated, it's not controversial.”

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He says that offering voters a second choice may even be unconstitutional, so he challenged the results in federal court.

Earlier this month, his case was presented before U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker during a hearing in which he made the argument against the ranked-choice voting law, saying that it violates the U.S. Constitution because its unique runoff system produces a “faux majority” winner of elections and disenfranchises voters.

The legal challenge is likely the first step in Poliquin’s attempts to reverse the Second Congressional District race won by his opponent and is part of a broader effort to invalidate a voting method that some Republicans view as an existential threat.

On Thursday, Walker rejected the lawsuit, dismissing Poliquin's arguments that ranked balloting gave some voters more of a voice than others or proved too confusing for the average voter. Even when votes cast for trailing candidates were reassigned, Walker said, all votes "remained and were counted."

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"The point is that 'one person, one vote' does not stand in opposition to ranked balloting, so long as all electors are treated equally at the ballot," Walker said.

Supporters of the runoff system say that Poliquin’s attorneys are using an array of sometimes contradictory claims against the law and that their failure could ultimately bolster ranked-choice voting against what has so far been a withering legal and political campaign.

The case is also being watched closely by national advocates for ranked-choice voting who hope to implement the system in other states.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Douglas Kennedy currently serves as a correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1996 and is based in New York.

Defendant gets 40 years, blames gender identity struggle for fatal stabbings of parents

AUGUSTA, Maine – A defendant convicted in the Halloween 2016 stabbing deaths of her parents — and who later killed the family pet to keep it from barking — was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years in prison.

Andrea Balcer, who turned 20 Monday, was 17 at the time of the slayings. She told authorities she "snapped" and killed her parents because of her struggle with gender identity. She was born Andrew T. Balcer but now identifies as a woman, CentralMaine.com reported.

At her sentencing hearing, Balcer asked her remaining family members to forgive her — but many of them called for Balcer to receive the maximum penalty.

"I do not speak today to beg for lenience or to try to save myself from due punishment. I'm here only to ask for one thing, the forgiveness of my family," she said.

"I do not speak today to beg for lenience or to try to save myself from due punishment. I’m here only to ask for one thing, the forgiveness of my family."

— Andrea Balcer, sentenced in Halloween 2016 stabbing deaths of parents

Balcer used a hunting knife to stab her mother nine times in the back about 1 a.m. Oct. 31, 2016, authorities said. She stabbed her father after he came to the bedroom to investigate his wife's screams, CentralMaine.com reported.

He was later found dead on the kitchen floor after leaving a trail of blood from the bedroom, the report said.

Balcer later killed the family's pet Chihuahua to stop it from barking, authorities said. An older brother managed to escape the house unharmed.

A defense attorney argued that at the time of the killings Balcer was grappling with a transition from male to female in isolation and without family support. She had no criminal record before the attacks in Winthrop, about 84 miles southwest of Bangor.

The older brother, Christopher Balcer, said the defendant's excuses were "flimsy" and urged the judge to be firm.

"In my view, all leniency does is put a remorseless murderer back on the street," he said.

"In my view, all leniency does is put a remorseless murderer back on the street."

— Christopher Balcer, brother of defendant

Family and friends testified that the parents, Alice and Antonio Balcer, loving and supportive to both of their children.

Carl Pierce, Alice's brother, said the suggestion that gender identity, abuse or lack of family support played a role was an "insult to our family, an insult to our society and an insult to the LGBTQ community."

"There was no hatred. There was no malice. There was no ill will. There was resignation to be sure but ultimately there was acceptance," he said.

Despite being a teenager at the time of the crimes, Balcer was treated as an adult in court proceedings, and she pleaded guilty under an agreement that capped her sentence at 55 years.

Justice Daniel Billings found mitigating factors including Balcer's lack of criminal record, her good grades, her age and her acceptance of responsibility by pleading guilty.

But the judge declined to take into account her struggles with gender identity in imposing the sentence. The judge said other transgender people struggle with societal and family acceptance, and that it shouldn't be used as an excuse for her actions.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

George H.W. Bush’s Putin encounter in Maine remembered by George W. Bush

Former President George W. Bush revealed in an interview released Sunday that he asked his late father for permission to bring Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit the family's famed compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Speaking to CBS News' "60 Minutes," Bush recalled that years ago during his presidency, he told his father, former President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday, that he needed a place to bring Putin during the Russian leader's trip to the U.S. in July 2007.

"I said, 'Dad, I need a place to bring Vladimir Putin. Would you mind if I brought him to Kennebunkport?'" Bush remembered. He added that he asked "knowing full well that Putin would say, 'Wow, this is really great.' And [George H.W. Bush] said, 'Not at all.' And he — so Putin lands."

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The elder Bush was at "the foot of the stairs" to greet the Russian president as he arrived at the home and, according to his son, asked Putin if he wanted to go out on the family boat.

"Putin said, 'Oh, I'd love to go.' And so Putin has this interpreter that's kind of — you know — didn't look like much of an outdoorsman,'" Bush said, laughing. "And the old man opens that thing up full blast and this guy, I'm standing to this interpreter, he's like white knuckles, you know, hanging on to the boat wondering if he's going to live. And he's cutting through these waves, it's just classic George Bush."

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The 43rd president of the U.S. said Putin "loved it," adding that Putin is "kind of one of these macho dudes that — salt spray comin' across, you know, and he thought it was wonderful… The interpreter was nerve-wracked."

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Putin stayed at the Bushes' home, known as Walker's Point, for two days, according to The New York Times. After boating, the Bush family and Putin enjoyed a lobster and swordfish dinner.

The 41st president — who often brought his "personal diplomacy" to the table while working with international leaders — died on Friday at the age of 94, roughly eight months after the death of his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush.

Nicole Darrah covers breaking and trending news for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @nicoledarrah.

Bush’s death sparks reactions from Maine law enforcement: ‘Rest easy Sir!’

With the death of former President George H.W. Bush at the age of 94 on Friday, law enforcement in Maine – where he frequently spent his summers – have taken to social media to share their encounters with him and express their condolences.

In Kennebunkport, where the Bush family has a summer vacation home at Walker’s Point, both the police and fire departments reacted to the passing of the 41st president.

“We are very sorry to hear of the passing of George H.W. Bush, so commonly known to us as 41. We wish the family the best during this tough time of loss,” the police department said on Facebook.

They described the former first couple as always being “kind and down to earth” when they crossed paths with the police.

“Rest easy Sir! Your service and sacrifice will never be forgotten,” the post said.

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Similarly, the fire department on Facebook expressed their sadness about learning of Bush’s death, adding that they “take comfort in knowing he’s together again with his beloved wife Barbara.”

Bush died shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, about eight months after the death of his wife, family spokesman Jim McGrath announced.

“Mr. President may you and First Lady Bush Rest In Peace,” the fire department wrote on Facebook.

A Facebook post from the Bangor Police Department offered an anecdote to a retired officer’s encounter with Bush when he was in the area during his presidency.

During the visit, Bush wanted to take a walk, during which Officer Heitmann’s role “was to follow the group on foot.”

“President Bush looked back at the officer bringing up the rear and stopped walking, he then waved for Heitmann to come up and walk beside them,” the post said. “Heitmann remarked, on several occasions, over a few cups of coffee, that the President just chatted like they were old friends during that walk. He asked questions, listened, engaged, and thanked John for his service.”

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How Bush carried himself in that moment was something that stuck with the officer, the department said.

“Sure, he was the 41st President of the United States, a heroic World War II aviator, and statesman. He was more than that to Mainers- and to a cop from Bangor- he was kind,” the post said.

Another police department in Ogunquit also shared their memories of Bush, who they said was considered a local in town and was a familiar face.

“He always had time to take a picture, sign an autograph or simply chat,” the department said on Facebook. “He loved being with people and you always left with a smile after speaking with him.”

The department would miss the former president and remember him well, they added.

Fox News’ Nicole Darrah contributed to this report.

George H.W. Bush loved to skydive, took last jump for 90th birthday

George H.W. Bush, the 41st U.S. president who died Friday at age 94, loved a high-flying activity — skydiving.

The former president, who served as a pilot in the U.S. Navy during World War II, celebrated his major age milestones in sky-high style.

He commemorated his 75th, 80th, 85th and 90 birthdays by leaping out of flying planes, Business Insider reported.

He took his last parachute jump at age 90 in June 2014.

His family transported him from his wheelchair to the chopper and sang "Happy Birthday" to him before it took off.

Bush jumped from a helicopter at about 6,000 feet harnessed to Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott, a retired member of the Golden Knights, the Army's parachute team. Elliott guided Bush to a gentle landing five years prior.

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"That's what he wanted for his 90th birthday and that's what he got," Elliott said. "It's a very good feeling to be involved and be able to turn back time. He's probably feeling younger now than ever."

Bush touched down near his home in Kennebunkport, Maine, USA Today reported then.

"It's a wonderful day in Maine — in fact, nice enough for a parachute jump," he tweeted then.

Witnesses said Bush was greeted with a kiss from his wife, Barbara, and a hug from his son, former President George W. Bush.

Spokesman Jim McGrath said the former president liked both a surprise and an adrenaline rush.

"It's vintage George Bush," McGrath said. "It's that passion for life. It's wanting to set a goal, wanting to achieve it. I'm sure part of it is sending a message to others that even in your retirement years you can still find challenges."

The elder Bush said his skydiving hobby had sent a message about what retirement did — and didn't mean, Fox 11 Los Angeles reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Amy Lieu is a news editor and reporter for Fox News.

Experienced skydiving instructor committed suicide by releasing harness midair, police say

An experienced skydiving instructor who plunged to his death while flying tandem with a student in Maine deliberately released his safety harness to commit suicide, state police revealed Monday.

Brett Bickford, 41, of Rochester, N.H., died on Sept. 27 after he separated from his student and fell a mile to his death, Maine State Police said.

The unidentified student landed safely with the parachute and quickly contacted police. Bickford’s body was found the next day about 750 feet southwest of the Lebanon Airport runway by a search and rescue team.

Maine’s medical examiner concluded this week that Bickford’s death was a suicide.

“Brett was one amazing smart young man. Those who knew Brett know he had a free spirit of life to live one day at a time,” his obituary said. “Brett’s smile and laughter live on in all who knew him.”

A two-month investigation concluded Bickford loosened his harness midair and that it was an intentional act. Police said they spoke with other skydiving instructors and industry officials, who all concluded that no experienced skydiver would loosen a parachute harness by mistake, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Steve McCausland, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, told the newspaper that Bickford, who had been an instructor at Skydive New England in Lebanon for 10 years, did not leave a suicide note.

Nicole Koreen, director of sports promotion for the U.S. Parachute Association, told the newspaper that tandem skydiving has a solid safety record, with an average of one student fatality per 500,000 tandem jumps over the past decade.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang