Thursday, April 30, 2020

Amash unanimous 1st choice in Maine LP primary

by George J. Dance

Only 9 people voted in the Libertarian Party of Maine's presidential preference primary. But those 9 voters have completely upended the Libertarian Party (LP) nomination race, and perhaps the U.S. presidential race itself.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the government responses, have caused tremendous damage – and the LP has not been immune, with primaries and state conventions being cancelled or postponed right and left. The LP of Maine, too, postponed its April convention: at this time they hope to run a full convention in July. But July would be too late to elect state delegates to the national convention, still scheduled for May 22 (although that date may change).

So in April  the state party also held a special convention on Zoom, with a limited agenda focussing on selecting the  national delegates.

Following the election of the 8 delegates (and 3 alternates), the Maine LP held its presidential preference primary. A party spokesman explained to me via Facebook that they tried to give the voters maximum choice: "The ballot was a very inclusive one. Every candidate listed on the national party's presidential candidate page was included along with all candidates on Wikipedia's page on the race for the LP nomination. This included the candidates who had withdrawn months ago, and prospective candidates." Only 2 candidates – one who publicly quit the LP, and one who is seeking another party's nomination – were excluded.

That made Maine's the first primary ballot to include Michigan Congressman Justin Amash. Amash, the only member of Congress to identify as a libertarian, had long been touted as a presidential candidate, and had always left the possibility open. In February, he paused his re-election campaign to seriously consider an LP presidential run; and was still doing so in April.

While Amash was playing Hamlet, libertarian thinktank founder Jacob Hornberger was building an impressive narrative of wins in the LP race. By the Maine convention he was the clear frontrunner, having won 7 of the previous 10 primaries and caucuses.  By April, given the limited opportunities to campaign, it was doubtful that any other declared candidate could beat Hornberger. But could Amash? The Maine primary, the first time both Hornberger and Amash had appeared on a ballot together, would be the first test.

The Maine LP used an Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)-style ballot: voters were asked to vote for 5 candidates (corresponding to 5 rounds of voting at a convention), and rank them from 1st to 5th choice (to correspond with each round). A voter with less than 5 preferences could either vote None of the Above, or leave the line(s) blank (not vote), for the remainder. There was also an option to write in names not printed on the ballot. Nine LP members voted for 5 choices each, making 45 possible votes.     

The Maine LP released the vote result on April 23. Of the  37 votes cast, NOTA received the most (11), simply because  anyone could vote for NOTA more than once. However, applying the method of IRV – where voting proceeds only until one candidate gets a majority – yields a different  winner. For the result of the first-choice count (corresponding to a first round of voting) was:
  • Justin Amash - 9
  • Jacob Hornberger - 0
  • Everyone else - 0
As the Maine LP announced on its webpage: "A candidate who has yet to even declare his candidacy, Justin Amash. was the first choice of all those who responded." (The Party has since expanded the poll to include all Maine LP sustaining members, which is presumably why the result has not been posted on Wikipedia).

Within the week, Amash entered the presidential race, launching an exploratory committee on April 28. On April 29, Hornberger wrote on his blog: "Today, this is a brand new race for the LP presidential nomination, one in which – I make no bones about it – Amash is now the clear favorite."

Once again, it was just 9 votes. The 2020 race for the LP nomination has not turned into a coronation of Amash. But it is now no longer a coronation of Hornberger, either. For the first time, it has become a real contest worth paying close attention to. 

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