BELFAST, Maine — Waldo County’s largest community struggled Tuesday night and all day Wednesday when it came to counting the votes cast on Election Day.
Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum said the city would not be able to release official results at least until Thursday because of a complication in counting the ballots. He sent a three-page memo Wednesday afternoon to city councilors explaining the problem.
“It’s not enough to change any race,” he said. “That’s my assessment at this time.”
But City Councilor Mike Hurley told the Bangor Daily News that he was disappointed with the reporting delay.
“People have a right to expect to have their votes tallied and reported in a reasonable time frame,” he said. “I’m not sure what the problem is, but we’re going to find out and we’re going to fix this.”
The city made the unofficial results available to the BDN by late afternoon, and they have been posted on bangordailynews.com.
According to Slocum, there was a discrepancy in how ballots that had been “rejected” by the electronic voting machines were tallied in the city’s different wards.
Some of those ballots had been counted once then padlocked in boxes after the polls closed, he said. Those ballots needed to be checked again, however, but the city had to wait for permission from the Maine secretary of state before local officials could use wire cutters to open the boxes.
Slocum said state election workers told Belfast to have “everybody calm down and lock everything up” late Wednesday afternoon. Efforts to recount the ballots would resume Thursday depending on what state officials said, according to the city manager.
“We may want to offer the political parties an opportunity to watch us look at the rejected ballots,” he said.
Some of the state election officials were speculating that there might be a mechanical problem with one of the machines, Slocum said, accounting for ballots being “misread” and rejected.
According to Belfast City Clerk Denise Beckett, close to 50 absentee ballots were rejected by the machine. It was unclear if those were the only ballots that were disputed.
Altogether, 3,603 of the city’s 4,584 registered voters cast ballots this year.
Slocum also said Maine’s official election reporting form was complicated and has changed each year for the last two years.
“It’s far more complicated than most tax returns,” Slocum said, adding that he has heard that Belfast isn’t the only community that struggled this year. “I spent the whole day and most of last night trying to understand it.”