AUGUSTA, Maine — The specter of election fraud has been raised after last week’s Maine Senate District 25 ballot recount changed the outcome of the race.
Unanswered questions remain about 21 ballots from the town of Long Island that can’t seem to be attributed to any voter. The ballots were discovered on Nov. 18, the night of the recount, and all of them contained a vote for Republican Cathleen Manchester of Gray, who had requested the recount.
On Election Day, Falmouth Democrat Catherine Breen appeared to have won the tight race by 32 votes. After the recount — the outcome of which was contested by Breen and the Maine Democratic Party — Manchester was declared the victor with an 11-vote margin.
During an election, wardens at each polling place keep track of which registered voters have cast ballots. This ensures that no one gets to vote twice. The incoming voter list, or “voter manifest,” in Long Island indicated that 171 residents cast ballots either in person or absentee in this year’s election.
That’s the same number of votes presented by warden and Town Clerk Brenda Singo in unofficial results relayed on election night to the Bangor Daily News and the Associated Press. Long Island, a town of about 230 residents, has only one polling place, and Singo was the only warden.
However, when the locked box of ballots was opened during the recount, 192 ballots were found. Put simply, there are 21 more ballots from Long Island than there are documented voters. (Earlier reports from the secretary of state that indicated 25 new ballots found in the town — including four for Breen — were incorrect).
“This type of discrepancy has not occurred in recent memory,” said Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, in a statement issued late Tuesday afternoon. As secretary of state, Dunlap oversees Maine elections and recounts.
Efforts by the Bangor Daily News to obtain a copy of the voter manifest are ongoing. However, Marc Malon, Senate caucus director for the Maine Democratic Party, and Bill Logan, a lawyer representing the GOP, both reviewed the voter manifest on Monday and confirmed in separate interviews that the 21 additional ballots could not be accounted for.
Singo said Tuesday that she did not know how there could be more ballots than voters, and that she had never heard of this situation happening previously. When more questions were asked, she said she was uncomfortable discussing the matter any further.
The recount on Nov. 18 and Monday’s document review were both overseen by Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn. Efforts this week to contact her have been unsuccessful.
Given the tight margin in the recount, these 21 untraceable ballots made the difference in deciding the winner.
Kate Knox, an attorney representing the Democrats, refused to accept the new results on the night of the recount, citing concerns with Long Island’s ballots as well as nine disputed ballots and 10 missing ballots from Gray and Westbrook.
However, Logan would not agree to keep the recount open, and Flynn made the decision to declare the recount finished.
The lack of agreement punted the issue to the Senate, where incoming Senate President Michael Thibodeau, a Republican, will appoint four Republican and three Democratic senators to a committee that will decide which candidate will be seated.
Democrats feel burned by the fact that the GOP would not allow any additional investigation, and they are calling on the secretary of state and Senate committee to investigate where the “phantom ballots” came from and whether they are valid. The party also is exploring what legal options are available to ensure there was no election fraud in Senate District 25.
“The worst-case scenario is that extra ballots were somehow put into that count that were not real ballots, that someone ‘stuffed the ballot box,’” Knox said. “I’m not saying that happened, but when you add up all the facts, it doesn’t add up.”
Logan, the GOP attorney present for the recount and voter manifest review, said that it’s not unusual for vote totals to sway during a recount, and that there are always unanswered — and unanswerable — questions about why or how the figures change.
“One could always theorize that something nefarious was done, or that some mistake was made, but it’s just a theory,” he said Monday. “We counted every ballot that we had, counted by a Republican and a Democrat, and the ballots were confirmed by the secretary of state. I can understand why they may be disappointed by the result, but that’s part of a close election.”
Logan said the explanation could be as simple as the warden failing to check the names of voters who cast ballots on Election Day. Long Island is the only town in Senate District 25 where ballots are counted by hand on election night, he added, so human tabulation error is not out of the question, either.
Knox said either of those could be plausible explanations for a discrepancy of one or two ballots, but not 11 percent of all the votes cast in the town.
She also contested the idea that Democrats were only concerned because their candidate lost after the recount.
“We’re definitely in an era of skepticism, and people are not fans of partisan bickering. And I do understand that,” she said. “But objectively, when you’re in a situation where you have serious questions about ballots when the race is this close, and those questions can sway the race, I’d hope people would say there’s a responsibility for everybody to at least ascertain the accurate count.”
Dunlap did not respond directly to requests for comment, but in the statement issued Tuesday afternoon, he reiterated that the outcome of the Senate District 25 election rests with the incoming Senate.
“The incoming voter list is consistent with the warden’s return of votes cast, showing that 171 Long Island voters submitted ballots in the Nov. 4, 2014, general election,” Dunlap said in the statement. “The voter list and the 21 ballots for Manchester recorded in the recount but not tabulated on election night will be among the materials available for review by the Senate as it resolves the disputed election.”
The Long Island ballots and other documents are in sealed storage at Maine State Police Headquarters in Augusta and will be made available for inspection by the Senate committee, said Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for Dunlap.
Senate District 25 includes the towns of Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth and part of Westbrook.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.