Just hours before the deadline, a local anti-casino group in Oxford County requested a recount of last week’s narrow vote approving Question 1, a citizens initiative to bring a resort gambling facility to western Maine.
Members of Oxford Hills No on One delivered a petition with about 150 signatures to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office in Augusta early Tuesday afternoon. The deadline was 5 p.m.
Election officials will begin the process of recounting more than a half-million votes sometime in the next two weeks. The vote, according to unofficial results compiled by the Bangor Daily News, was 282,463 for the question and 276,845 against, a difference of about 5,600 votes.
“We haven’t done a statewide recount in about 15 years,” Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said, adding that he didn’t expect the outcome to change. “What recounts usually uncover are clerical errors. Someone writes down 91 instead of 19. But our local elections officials do such a great job, so very few votes are ever overturned.”
Scott Vlaun of Oxford Hills No on One defended the recount request.
“The margin was so close and so many people worked so hard for so long, we felt obligated to all the supporters to make sure we did in fact lose it at the polls,” Vlaun said. “It seems at that range there’s plenty of room for error.”
CasinosNO!, a vocal opponent of all gambling initiatives in Maine, has joined the local group in the recount effort.
“Because of the closeness of the vote, we feel we owe it to those who have fought for more than 10 years against casinos in Maine to ensure that the vote result is accurate,” said Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNO!
Another active opponent, the Citizens Against the Oxford County Casino, did not pursue a recount. Spokesman Dan Cashman said the group was prepared to work with the Legislature to iron out problematic details in the law. The biggest member of the Citizens Against the Oxford County Casino is Hollywood Slots, Maine’s only gambling facility, in Bangor.
Black Bear Entertainment, a group of Maine investors behind the Oxford County project, has proposed a $165 million resort that will be built in phases and include a casino, a 200-room hotel, restaurants, convention space and a spa.
Jim Boldebrook, one of the investors, said the recount was a stall tactic that would only delay the inevitable.
“For months opponents have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to prevent a jobs-making project headed by Maine businesspeople,” he said. “We want to begin creating those jobs now.”
Rob Lally, co-owner of Mt. Abram Ski Resort in Greenwood, said Tuesday that Black Bear Entertainment already has begun the site selection process and could announce a proposed site as early as the end of this week. The casino investors also are set to begin interviewing firms to manage the casino once it is built.
The recount could delay those plans a month at most.
Once the recount petition signatures are certified, all ballots will be delivered to Augusta, where they will be counted by supporters and opponents of the referendum under the supervision of state election officials.
For any recount that is within 2 percent, Maine taxpayers are obligated to pick up the cost, Dunlap said. A statewide recount could take three to four weeks and is likely to be expensive, but the secretary declined to estimate an amount.
“This is terrible PR for the anti-gambling groups, especially one based near Oxford,” said Mark Robinson, a spokesperson for Black Bear Entertainment. “The Oxford area voted strongly in favor of the proposal, and the move by Oxford Hills No on One is needlessly divisive.”
The last recount on a statewide ballot measure came after a 1995 referendum in which voters approved a mandatory seat belt law by less than 1 percentage point. The recount was halted after less than 12 percent of the ballots had been tallied again when the opposing group said it was satisfied with the results.
In 1970, the narrow gubernatorial election victory of Kenneth Curtis withstood a recount after he won by 890 of about 325,000 votes cast.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.