EDITORIALS

Count the votes

Mike Donahue plants signs in frozen ground in support of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul outside a caucus, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, in Portland.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Mike Donahue plants signs in frozen ground in support of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul outside a caucus, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, in Portland.
Posted Feb. 15, 2012, at 2:26 p.m.

The Maine Republican Party finds itself in the unenviable position of capturing the national spotlight when a lull in GOP primaries and caucuses focused additional scrutiny on the state’s bungled results. The best way out of that spotlight is to ensure the official caucus results reflect the votes of all the state’s party members.

For about a month, Maine Republicans around the state have been holding caucuses, where party business is conducted and a straw poll on the presidential nomination is taken.

While there’s real work that goes on at the caucus, the presidential polling captures most of the attention.

And, unfortunately for Maine, that attention has turned negative.

GOP Chairman Charlie Webster announced Saturday night in Portland that Mitt Romney won the preference poll with 39 percent of the vote, while Ron Paul came in second with 36 percent of the vote and trailing by just 194 votes.

But the tally Mr. Webster announced wasn’t complete.

Washington County postponed its Saturday caucus due to the threat of bad weather. Other communities, which had held their caucuses before Saturday, didn’t have their results included in the “official” total. The reasons for this remain unclear.

Rep. Paul’s campaign and its supporters were quick to see an opportunity.

In a statement, Rep. Paul’s campaign said: “In Washington County — where Ron Paul was incredibly strong — the caucus was delayed until next week just so the votes wouldn’t be reported by the national media today.”

There’s no question that former Massachusetts Gov. Romney was desperate for a win in Maine. After stunning defeats in the days running up to the Maine caucus, the once-certain front-runner seemed far from the inevitable nominee.

The events in Maine harken back to Iowa, which originally declared Gov. Romney the winner, but later determined that former Sen. Rick Santorum had actually won. After an apparent Election Night win, it turns out that Sen. Santorum had eeked out the narrowest of wins. The Iowa GOP chairman has since stepped down.

No delegates were awarded with Maine’s GOP caucus. While the win was important for Gov. Romney, the vote didn’t really move anyone closer to the nomination. Maine’s GOP delegates will be awarded during the party’s convention in May. If Gov. Romney continues to seal the deal with conservative voters, that convention, and the 24 delegates at stake, could loom large.

Pressure is beginning to build, especially from Washington County — and Waldo County, where party officials voted to censure Mr. Webster — that Saturday’s “final” tally be reconsidered and all the votes counted. This is appropriate.

In reality, it’s unlikely — but not impossible — that Washington County would have changed the results of the GOP caucus. Now, however, with the heightened attention that’s continuing to grow, the Maine GOP has given Rep. Paul’s supporters ample reason to pack this weekend’s Washington and Hancock county caucuses.

For the sake of Maine’s national reputation and for the integrity of the Republican Party, GOP leaders would be wise to reconsider their decision.

While the argument can be made that every Maine community knew the caucus rules, the best outcome would be to let every voice be heard, every vote to be counted.

The alternative would be to let resentment and distrust fester until the May convention. At that point, the consequences will be much higher and the damage much harder to undo.

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