It had all the makings of the rarest of rare events – a political scandal in Maine. The recount in a hotly contested state Senate race with a razor-thin winning margin found that there were more ballots cast than voters who showed up to cast them in the small town of Long Island. The disputed votes were enough to snatch victory from Democrat Cathy Breen and give it to Republican Cathy Manchester, the last indignity of an election that had many of them for Democrats. Critics wanted a thorough investigation. Some wanted to see subpoenas issued, voters canvassed, ballots dusted for fingerprints. They wanted an inquiry that got to the bottom of the controversy, not just some quickie review. And they got part of their wish. The committee did get to the bottom of the controversy Tuesday, but it certainly didn’t take very long. It turns out all the panel had to do was open the box of ballots and look inside.
The box contained 171 ballots on election night when it was sealed and locked on Long Island by Town Clerk Brenda Singo. Two weeks later when the box was opened in Augusta, it was found to contain 192 ballots, 21 more than the number of incoming voters checked off by election wardens. But, like a magician’s trunk, when the box was opened Tuesday by the Senate committee, the number of ballots was back to 171. The committee’s recount came up with exactly the same result as Singo’s crew did on Nov. 4.
The solution to the mystery appears to be that while election clerks in Long Island did their job perfectly, the election professionals in Augusta – including lawyers representing both political parties and officials from the Secretary of State’s Office – did not. Once the error was discovered in the committee’s recount, Manchester resigned and Breen appeared to be on her way to representing District 25 in the Maine Senate.
If there is anything that can be learned from this episode, it might be the light that it shines on the highly partisan atmosphere in Augusta, where every move by the other side is interpreted as underhanded.