Long Island mystery ballot investigation begins

Editorial cartoon | George Danby

Editorial cartoon | George Danby

A committee of the Maine Senate today will take up the case of the District 25 election, and in particular the 21 mystery ballots from the town of Long Island that flipped the race in favor of Republican candidate Cathy Manchester during a recount.

Committee chair Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican from Augusta, has promised a full investigation that “preserves the integrity of the state’s election system and thoroughly addresses concerns about any impropriety in how the District 25 ballots were handled and counted.” He hopes that most of their work can be completed in one long sitting today, starting at 9am. Audio from the hearings will be streamed live here.

This openness to an investigation is a reversal from the Republican position early last week, when Senate Leader Mike Thibodeau dismissed concerns about the unexplained ballots and Republican Party Chair Rick Bennett released a statement accusing Democrats and the media of “playing politics” by even mentioning the strange circumstances of the race.

“The Maine Democratic Party and their bloggers and allies, Ethan Strimling, Mike Tipping, Cynthia Dill, and the entire Portland Press Herald, are dishonestly attacking the election process and, apparently, the Maine State Police, by falsely raising the specter of ‘fraud’, despite the fact that the ballot boxes were sealed and kept in the appropriate secure chain of custody per Maine law,” wrote Bennett.

That statement did not mention or fault the several high-profile Republican commentators who had already called for a full investigation, or the more than 3,000 individual Mainers who have signed a petition asking the Senate to get to the bottom of the issue.

Some intrepid reporters aren’t waiting for results from the Senate. Eric Russell, Susan Kimball and Gregory Rec at the Portland Press Herald visited Long Island recently and came back with a very interesting story (with plenty of video for local flavor). They quote Kim MacVane, one of the ballot counters on election night, who says that of 250 ballots sent to the island for the election, one batch of 50 remained unopened and she and the other counters hand-stamped another 29 ballots as cancelled, leaving no possible avenue for the 21 mystery ballots to have been legitimately cast.

Those 29 cancelled ballots, if they can be confirmed by the Senate today, could provide concrete evidence that something is wrong with those extra votes. A canvass of the small number of voters who might have conceivably cast the ballots could lead to a similar result, as I’ve noted previously.

Such evidence would provoke more questions than it answers, and it remains to be seen what other testimony or physical evidence might reveal in this case. Today’s proceedings could be very interesting.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike is Maine's longest-writing political blogger and explores state politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center.