PORTLAND, MAINE -- 11/10/21 -- Brandon Mazer (center) confers with his advisors before conceding a Portland City Council race to Roberto Rodriguez on Wednesday Nov. 10, 2021. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Portland’s city clerk found 45 ballots that went missing from the recount of the city’s at-large council election. The discovery further tightens but does not overturn the results of the historically close race, which was initially tied before ultimately decided by 35 votes in a public recount.

The newly discovered ballots clear up a discrepancy that dogged lawyers over the final day of a two-day recount that found Roberto Rodriguez the winner of Portland’s at-large city council race, with 8,547 votes to Brandon Mazer’s 8,512.

After Rodriguez’s victory, the city clerk conducted an internal audit hoping to resolve a gap between machine-counted and hand-tallied ballots. The clerk found a box of “auxiliary ballots” in a manilla envelope stashed at the bottom of a box locked in a City Hall vault. The ballots had been counted in the initial vote but not present in the hand recount, according to a memo released by the city Monday afternoon

Of those ballots, 20 went for Mazer and 11 for Rodriguez, with 14 others expired. The ballot discovery sharpens an already razor-thin difference between the two candidates, but does not change the outcome of the race.

“We knew all along it was going to be a close race,” Mazer said. “The gap was even closer.”

The discovery of the missing ballots is hoped to be the final ripple of one of the strangest municipal races in U.S. history. The ranked-choice vote initially ended in a tie after two runoffs — the first in recorded ranked-choice vote history. Mazer was briefly declared the winner when city officials randomly drew his name from a bowl , a necessary procedural step before the public hand recount found Rodriguez the victor.

Mazer said he was relieved that the unaccounted-for ballots were found, and especially relieved that they didn’t change the outcome after he had already conceded.

“Would it have been better if those had been discovered during the recount? Absolutely,” he said. “But I think it shows that the counts that are coming out of the computers are relatively accurate overall.”

Auxiliary ballots are those ballots that include write-ins or ballots marked in a way that could not be read by the scanner and that must be processed manually and added to the computer totals. The city said it was unclear why they were excluded from the hand recount.

Even after Mazer conceded, questions lingered for him and his team about a 36-vote spread between the initial electronic tally on Nov. 3 and the hand tally conducted on Nov. 10. Clerks also awarded two additional votes apiece to each candidate from a pool of 37 disputed ballots, expiring the rest.

“With the addition of 20 additional votes for Mazer and 11 votes for Rodriguez from the auxiliary ballots, the recount totals would have been: 8534 Mazer; 8560 Rodriguez. Moreover, even if all of the 14 ballots deemed exhausted had been counted for Mazer, his total votes would have been 8,548,” the city clerk said in a statement.

Roberto Rodriguez will be sworn in to the council with other newly elected councillors Victoria Pelletier and Anna Trevorrow on Dec. 6.