The Maine Attorney General’s Office will not investigate a complaint it received regarding a miscount of votes during Hope’s 2020 municipal election, citing a lack of evidence of fraud or intentional wrongdoing.
The attorney general’s office received the complaint earlier this month and began gathering information on the matter. On March 23, town officials were informed that the state would not proceed with an investigation into the complaint, according to a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office.
Hope officials have acknowledged that the results of its July 2020 municipal election were miscounted. However, since the errors were not discovered within 30 days after the election, the town cannot legally correct the results.
“In the absence of credible evidence of fraud, ballot tampering, or other intentional wrongdoing, there is not a basis for our office to initiate an investigation. The matter remains one appropriately addressed at the local level, along with any other concerns regarding the operation of town government,” the attorney general’s office stated in its message to the complainant and town officials.
While the town of Hope typically does business through an annual town meeting format, the town conducted a vote on its annual budget via a secret ballot process last summer because COVID-19 restrictions prohibited large gatherings.
Hope residents voted during the July 14 election on 25 ballot measures, which altogether made up the proposed 2020-21 municipal budget. The reported results varied for each ballot item, with vote totals ranging from a low of 463 on one item to a high of 548 on another. When the tally sheets used by town staff to compile results were finally unsealed March 5, it was discovered that 481 total municipal ballots were processed, meaning that there were too few ballots to result in vote totals exceeding that number.
After discovering the errors, the town’s select board hired an attorney to conduct an investigation into the matter. The independent inquiry determined that the errors were largely due to a lack of knowledge regarding how to oversee an election process because the town office was short staffed at the time.
The selectboard has said that the attorney found no evidence of fraud or attempts to subvert the electoral process.
An attorney specializing in municipal law advised the town to move forward with reliance on the results, even if there were errors made in the counting process, since the legal timeframe for a recount had passed.
Since the errors were discovered, the town has taken steps to ensure that the same mistakes are not made in future elections, including increasing the cross-training of town office staff to make sure they can do multiple jobs if necessary.