After mystery swirled around a contested southern Maine Senate district election for weeks, Catherine Breen — who saw Election Day victory slip from her grasp after an initial recount — is headed to the Senate after all. Breen, a Falmouth Democrat, was declared the victor on election night by a narrow margin over her Republican opponent, Cathleen Manchester of Gray. Manchester asked for a recount, which was conducted on Nov. 18, and the candidates saw their fortunes reversed, with Manchester squeaking out an even tighter win. Last week, Manchester was provisionally seated in the Legislature’s upper chamber, and Republican lawmakers had already taken to referring to her as “senator.” Democrats raised questions about 21 ballots from Long Island seemingly discovered during the recount, all of which contained votes for Manchester. Those ballots could not be accounted for at any step of the chain of custody for cast ballots, and state and local election officials disagreed about the total number of votes that should have been tallied from Long Island.
But in a dramatic turn of events on Tuesday, an inspection of the ballots by a seven-member special Senate committee showed that the 21 “phantom ballots” didn’t exist. Instead, it was revealed, 21 ballots for Manchester were mistakenly counted twice during the recount.
The room fell silent as the news sank in for the partisan staffers and Long Island residents in attendance. The revelation was enough to deny Manchester the victory she and her Republican colleagues thought she’d earned, and she promptly offered her resignation. “I have full confidence that no one did anything wrong, that we have human error at the recount. I believe the people of District 25 have spoken, and they have spoken to vote Catherine Breen as their state senator,” Manchester said.