Secretary of State Matt Dunlap oversees the recounting of ballots in Augusta in Dec. 6, 2018, file photo. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “What do we do if this sort of thing happens in a November Presidential election?” Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said in a Facebook post on Monday’s ranked-choice vote retabulation after the secretary of state’s office left out over 13,000 ballots from the July primaries. “Make the whole country wait for us to un-mess ourselves?” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Monday’s retabulation scramble would have been a much bigger problem in a close election. The 13,000 ballots — left out in the initial ranked-choice count in July because Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office selected the wrong file when uploading ballot images and one memory device caused an error preventing all ballot images from being uploaded — did not change any results this time, particularly because the Republican primary in Maine’s 2nd District was not close. 

But it showed how disruptive a potential error could be in a high-stakes election. The error was caught over the weekend before results were supposed to be certified by the governor, causing a last-minute scramble to check results. It resulted in a new count on Monday that Dunlap said was done publicly for the sake of transparency.

Dunlap noted Monday that there have been issues with the system before. He said during the 2018 general election six towns incorrectly entered votes from overseas voters, though that error was caught before the ranked-choice tabulation was completed publicly. That incident affected 6,500 votes, half as many involved in Monday’s incident and would have been less likely to sway general elections, which have higher turnout than other elections.

Though the effects were limited, the retabulation gives fuel to opponents of ranked-choice voting. Republicans attempted to collect signatures for a referendum on the state law allowing ranked-choice voting in presidential elections but Dunlap determined that they fell short. The state party is currently appealing in an attempt to reverse that decision.

Separately, ranked-choice voting also faces a legal challenge from a group of voters who argue the system unfairly disenfranchises voters who do not rank a second or third choice. That case will be in court next week, where the plaintiffs will have to convince the judge, Lance E. Walker, that the merits of their case are different from a ranked-choice voting case he threw out in 2018.

Ranked-choice voting has proven narrowly popular in Maine during referendums and in a 2018 exit poll by the Bangor Daily News. But Republicans’ main argument against it has been the added complexity it lends to our elections. People who share that view have another reason to believe that today.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine cities and towns could lose $146M in revenue by 2020’s end due to virus,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “[The projection] comes from a survey of 85 municipalities of varying sizes conducted from end of June to about mid-July, with results still coming in, lobbyist Kate Dufour of the association told Legislature’s budget committee on Monday.”

The meeting did have some good news: the state’s major pension system closed the fiscal year earning just below its assumed return rate. That means lawmakers will not have to worry as much about the state’s contribution rates to the pension fund for teachers and state employees going up when they work on a budget for next year, although rates will not be set until later. 

— “We checked if 285 Maine schools tested for cancer-causing radon. Only 1 did,” Erin Rhoda, BDN: “There are higher average levels of the gas in Maine than the nation, and widespread testing 30 years ago showed that radon levels in some schools reached more than quintuple the rate considered safe.”

— “Unity College abruptly lays off staff ahead of plan to retool academic offerings,” Abigail Curtis, BDN: “The changes are necessary for the school’s survival, Melik Khoury, president of Unity College, said. Although distance education has been growing at Unity, the number of students enrolled in the residential campus declined this year by about a third.”

Developments in U.S. Senate race

An independent U.S. Senate candidate is sticking around after saying last week he would drop out under certain conditions. Pro-Trump conservative Max Linn, who is running as an unenrolled candidate, said he would drop out of the race if Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, adopted five of his preferred policy positions.

Linn previously said that Collins’ allies had been pressuring him to quit the race. A former state senator challenged the Bar Harbor businessman’s signature collection last month but later withdrew the challenge. Joining Linn and Collins on the November ballot will be House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat from Freeport, and Lisa Savage of Solon, a teacher and former Green Party candidate.

An organization that once supported Collins is spending $1.7 million to oppose her. Planned Parenthood Votes, the political organization affiliated with the reproductive health care clinic, announced Tuesday morning that it would be investing in a broad voter contact program to help elect Gideon.

It is another indicator of just how quickly times have changed for Collins, one of only a few Republicans who has expressed support for abortion rights. In 2017, the Maine senator received an award from Planned Parenthood in 2017 for her support of family planning programs.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...