AUGUSTA, Maine — In a dramatic turn of events, an inspection of ballots from Long Island on Tuesday showed that 21 votes for Republican Cathy Manchester appear to have been counted twice during a Nov. 18 recount in Senate District 25.
That would be enough to deprive Manchester of the victory she appeared to gain from the recount and send Democrat Cathy Breen to the Senate as the Yarmouth-area district’s senator for the next two years.
A special Senate committee, tasked with finding answers in a hotly contested southern Maine election watched Tuesday afternoon as Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn recounted the Long Island ballots and made the discovery that a batch of 21 ballots apparently was counted twice during the recount.
If that is the case, Breen, who appeared to have won on election night, would have enough votes to win the seat, regardless of decisions made on other contested ballots.
The committee — led by Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta and Democratic Sen. Dawn Hill of Cape Neddick — recessed after the discovery to assess the situation and decide how to proceed.
The committee spent the early part of the day questioning Flynn in an attempt to establish a complete timeline for all of Long Island’s ballots — from printing to the Nov. 18 recount.
Breen was declared the victor by a 32-vote margin in an initial tally of votes on Election Day, prompting Manchester to request a recount. After the recount was conducted on Nov. 18, the result flipped, with the GOP candidate appearing to have won by 11 votes.
But questions have been raised by Democrats, including Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, about “phantom ballots” from Long Island. The town’s voter manifest indicates that only 171 voters participated in the Senate District 25 election — including absentee and overseas voters. That figure matched the number of ballots counted on election night.
But on the evening of the recount, 21 new Long Island ballots were discovered, for a total of 192. The extras were found in a grouping that Election Day documents indicated should contain only 21 ballots. However, it contained 42. There is no way to attribute the additional ballots to any documented voter.
It now appears that the “phantom” ballots can be explained by the double-counting of 21 ballots during the recount.
Last week, majority Republicans in the Senate voted to seat Manchester provisionally, despite a recommendation from Dunlap that Breen be seated until the investigation is complete. The Senate is the final arbiter of who will be seated in a race that is still contested after a recount, and it will take a final vote after receiving the special committee’s recommendation.
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Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.