December 11, 2018
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Why you should be skeptical that Maine voters received the wrong ballots

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Robert Gray steps out of the voting booth after he filling out his ballot at the Brewer Auditorium in 2017.

Good morning from Augusta. A bizarre episode unfolded on Wednesday around Maine’s 2018 election, when the Maine Republican Party released affidavits from 17 voters in the 1st Congressional District who think they mistakenly voted in the wrong congressional district.

The problems? Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office says it’s functionally impossible, clerks agree and there’s no proof of irregularities around the tallies from the towns of Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor and Edgecomb, the coastal towns where concerns are concentrated.

Virtually all who have come forward are Republican voters. Complaints were made after Election Day. Because the voters are in the 1st District, it wouldn’t impact the recount in the 2nd District. These issues are being raised amid Republican antipathy toward ranked-choice voting.

Could it be a case of false memory? It’s hard to pin down right now. Here’s what we know.

There is a varying degree of certainty in the affidavits and it doesn’t seem as though any complaints were raised until after Election Day. Affidavits came from 17 voters who are certain to varying degrees that they had the wrong ballot. Some signed form affidavits saying they “swear” they voted for U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who lost the 2nd District race to Democrat Jared Golden. A married couple said they were “nearly positive” they did. Another vote said he “did not realize it at the time but I now know” he voted in the wrong race.

Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said he started to hear complaints from this region shortly after Election Day, but they have snowballed since then and he has heard of dozens more. Lynn Maloney and Michelle Farnham, the town clerks in Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor, said they heard no similar complaints on Election Day.

Charles House of Boothbay, who signed a “nearly positive” affidavit, said while he generally knows who should be on a ballot, he remembers “rushing” on Nov. 6 and voting for Poliquin instead of returning his ballot — which he now concedes he should have done.

After that, he said he talked about the election with his wife, two daughters and one of their husbands. House said four of the five remembered having the 2nd District race on their ballot. He was contacted three weeks later to fill out an affidavit.

“I’d hate to say something under oath that wasn’t true, but I’d be extremely surprised that all four of us misremembered that happening,” House said.

If these ballots were wrong, they wouldn’t have been accepted by tabulating machines. There are also no apparent issues with vote tallies in these towns. Dunlap’s office has responded to the complaints in the towns, with Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn saying the tabulating machines used in Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor wouldn’t have accepted 2nd District ballots if a voter attempted to feed them into the machine.

The clerks in those two towns agreed with that finding. Edgecomb’s clerk told WGME that the town counts ballots by hand and they didn’t see any wrong ballots there.

The vote tallies in the three towns also show no apparent irregularities. Taken together, they had above-average turnout compared to Lincoln County. As they should be, the number of votes in the 1st District and races for other seats in each town were the same.

It’s hard to square what happened here, though Republicans think these ballots should be checked out. Poliquin called these issues “concerning” in a Thursday post on Facebook. He is suing Dunlap in a bid to invalidate the ranked-choice election and while these issues are being baked into that debate, these votes wouldn’t impact his election.

Savage, the state GOP official, said it was an example of “confusion” around ranked-choice voting, though nearly three-quarters of people in a Bangor Daily News exit poll said ranking choices was very or somewhat easy.

What happened here? The “Mandela effect” is a phrase that has been coined to describe false memories in groups of people and academic research has proven that after-the-fact suggestion can lead people to believe things happened that never did. TV viewers were also inundated with ads for the 2nd District race and the 1st District was a relatively sleepy campaign.

Either way, Republicans think the complaints should lead officials to check the ballots in these towns. Former Rep. Stephanie Hawke, R-Boothbay Harbor, who was ousted by 82 votes and fielded many complaints, said people could be dissuaded to vote if they aren’t examined.

Towns can’t check those ballots without approval from Dunlap’s office. His spokeswoman, Kristen Muszynski, said there are no plans to do that because “we don’t have evidence of ballots being kicked back for this reason.”


How lobbyists can donate to the governor-elect

The Democratic governor-elect won’t let lobbyists fund her transition team. She will let them fund her inauguration with help from a loophole. On Wednesday, Gov.-elect Janet Mills’ transition team registered two committees with Maine’s ethics watchdog that allow her to begin raising unlimited private funds through Jan. 30 for her transition to the Blaine House and inaugural activities under a new law mandating disclosure of transition funding.

We told you about that last week. We also said Mills faced a Dec. 5 deadline to raise money from lobbyists, since the new Legislature was sworn in then and during sessions, lobbyists and their firms are barred from donating to legislators and transitions. However, there’s a loophole.

In Maine, lobbyists are defined as people who are paid to influence lawmakers on bills. After they reach eight hours of activity, they have to register with the state. Those registrations are good until Nov. 30 of each year, so all of them recently expired. Only 11 lobbyists have registered for 2019.

This means that virtually all of Maine’s big-name lobbyists — the top 96 highest-paid ones between 2017 and 2018, to be exact — aren’t “lobbyists” yet in the eyes of the state. Therefore, the prohibitions on funding Mills and other politicians don’t apply right now.

In an email, Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said the governor-elect will not solicit donations from lobbyists or businesses employing lobbyists for her transition team, which will narrow down candidates being considered for Mills’ Cabinet. Ogden said that arrangement was made “to send a clear message” that appointments “will be based solely and strictly on the merits of the candidates and nothing else.”

However, he said the transition team will accept all donations from everyone looking to fund inaugural activities. Everyone includes lobbyists, who Ogden said “would never influence any decision-making within the transition to begin with.”


Reading list

— Gov. Paul LePage lost another round in court in his legal battle against Medicaid expansion. On Thursday, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy denied the administration’s request to stay an order forcing it to implement voter-approved Medicaid expansion. It’s the latest setback Murphy has dealt to LePage’s legal campaign against expansion of the government health program under the Affordable Care Act. But Thursday’s ruling, which also delays the deadline for implementation to Feb. 1, 2019, effectively hands the long-running political and legal fight over implementing a policy that voters approved in 2017 to Mills.

— The road to prosperity involves fixing roads and finding cleaner energy sources, a think tank advised Maine’s next governor. That’s the gist of a memo the Acadia Center of Rockport sent to Mills detailing research on Maine’s economic development options. The center said that modernizing the state’s transportation system alone could produce more than $3.8 billion in new economic benefits, add 8,700 new jobs and create $2.3 billion in public health and other benefits. With other improvements, including cleaner energy, the state could generate $6.5 billion in consumer and economic benefits and create about 13,500 new jobs. Mills will keynote the group’s energy conference today in Augusta. The transportation infrastructure upgrade suggestions dovetail with LePage’s but the energy proposals reflect a stark contrast from his agenda for the past eight years.

— Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case of a murdered Hampden woman want more answers from a Roman Catholic priest. Both sides in the case involving Philip Clark, 55 of Hampden, who is accused of killing his sister-in-law in July, argued Wednesday that the murder victim’s journal, which she kept at the direction of a Bangor priest, should be admitted as evidence in the homicide case against Clark. Defense attorney David Bate said at a court hearing that the Rev. Anthony Cipolle has been “less than candid with investigators in this case.” He said the priest has invoked his Fifth Amendment right to silence and has refused to voluntarily give his DNA to be tested as part of the homicide investigation into the July death of Renee Henneberry Clark, 49. Prosecutors also filed a motion to gain access to the diary in preparation for the trial, which is set for next year.


Weigh in on LePage

LePage has been one of the most influential Maine politicians in the past half century. As his eight-year tenure as governor proceeds through its final month, the BDN would like to know how you think he did — both in terms of leading the state and affecting your lives.

Please take a few moments to share your thoughts here. We welcome your earnest and honest reflections and insights. You’ve had eight years to read and hear what we think. We genuinely want to know what you, as Mainers, believe to be the hallmarks of his governorship.

We seek wisdom, not wit. So we ask that you resist the temptation to be nasty, snarky or ironic to share thoughtful perspectives that we in turn can share with readers. Thank you. Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com and rlong@bangordailynews.com.


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