Volunteers and election officials recount Portland City Council at-large votes by hand at the Ocean Gateway Terminal on Tuesday Nov. 9, 2021. The initial, ranked choice count left Brandon Mazer and Roberto Rodriguez tied. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — After a weeklong showdown, Roberto Rodriguez received the most votes in a ballot recount on Tuesday in Portland’s at-large city council race.

Rodriguez received 8,547 votes to Brandon Mazer’s 8,512.

Lawyers for both candidates were still discussing 37 disputed ballots Tuesday night, making the race unresolved. The next step toward determining a winner was for the two legal teams to agree on the disputed ballots and whether they meaningfully change Rodriguez’s 35-vote lead.

City staff also resolved a discrepancy of “about 20-30 votes” between the candidates’ tally and the city’s tally, determining there were no missing ballots at City Hall.

City Council candidate Brandon Mazer greets voters at the East End Community School in Portland on Election Day, Tuesday morning Nov. 2, 2021. Mazer is running for an at-large seat. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Ben Grant, an attorney for Roberto Rodriguez, said he was “confident we have counted every vote that is here.”

The impasse comes after two dozen volunteers and lawyers representing both candidates conducted a nearly eight-hour hand recount of roughly 21,300 ballots. 

City staff are still determining what would happen next if a losing candidate appeals the recount, which could potentially send it to the hands of the city council for a vote or to court for a legal determination.

“It’s way too premature to know what’s going to happen right now,” said Portland’s corporation counsel Jennifer Thompson.

The race is the first ranked-choice election in U.S. history to end in a tie. The city’s initial ruling had Mazer and Rodriguez each finishing with 8,529 votes, after runoffs eliminated third-place finisher Travis Curran and fourth-place finisher Stuart Tisdale, Jr. Mazer was declared a preliminary winner by randomized lot-drawing two days after the election, when a city clerk drew a piece of paper bearing his name out of a salad bowl in front of City Hall.

Rodriguez had received 275 more first-choice votes than Mazer before the runoffs, according to results released by the city Monday night.

The win, if affirmed, would also give an emerging progressive wing a clean sweep in local municipal elections, giving them a solid 6-3 lead over councilors supported by the city’s business class.

Candidates favored by the business establishment have made up a majority of Portland’s council for the last decade, but that changed in 2020 when progressives won two council seats and passed referenda enacting rent control and a minimum wage increase. Most elected officials in Maine’s largest city would be considered progressive compared with the rest of the state.

Jason Shedlock (left) and Steve DiMIllo help recount Portland City Council at-large votes by hand at the Ocean Gateway Terminal on Tuesday Nov. 9, 2021. The initial, ranked choice count left Brandon Mazer and Roberto Rodriguez tied. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The new council is poised to change the city’s direction after the departure of City Manager Jon Jennings and Portland police chief Frank Clark, who stepped down from their roles last week. Danielle West, formerly the city’s top attorney, has been appointed interim city manager, and assistant chief Heath Gorham was promoted to interim police chief.

Mazer, a 35-year-old lawyer who sits on the planning board, arrived at Ocean Gateway at 7:15 a.m. Six hours later, he said the shine of being a “little part of history” in the unique election hadn’t worn off — but he was ready for it to be over.

“I don’t think me or Roberto thought we’d be here or tied,” Mazer said. “But we ran a great campaign and we’ll see what it brings.”

Rodriguez, a 42-year-old director of an urban farming business who sat on the city’s school board for six years, said the process reaffirmed that “every vote matters.”

“We want to make sure that people recognize that when they don’t feel it’s important to vote or that it’s not going to make a difference, here’s a clear indicator that yes, it makes a difference,” Rodriguez said.

Portland City Council at-large candidate Roberto Rodriguez greets voters outside the Expo on Tuesday Nov. 2, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

City clerks released official election results late Monday night, six days after the election. A second batch of “unofficial” results had been released earlier Monday that addressed a database issue. Both results differed slightly from the original tally released Wednesday afternoon.

Two independent elections software firms verified the tied ranked-choice vote using city data, but volunteers in the hand recount could determine voter intent in ballots that the machines counted as blank — like, for example, if a voter had written in Rodriguez‘s name as well as filled in an oval corresponding to it.

Correction: A previous version of this story included a typo on the number of votes Mazer and Rodriguez received before the recount.