Discovery Of 'Phantom Ballots' Has Maine Democrats Questioning State Senate Race Results

Nov 26, 2014

The discovery of 21 so-called "phantom ballots" in Maine's state Senate District 25 has Democrats crying foul. All 21 ballots were cast in Long Island for Republican Cathleen Manchester. Some Democratic officials are calling on Maine's Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to intervene. But Dunlap says the outcome of the disputed election is up to the Maine Senate.

This story appears courtesy MPBN News.

Last week the voters of Senate District 21 were trying to figure out who they had elected as their new state senator. Comprised of so-called Gold Coast communities, such as Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth, voters in those towns thought they had elected Democrat Catherine Breen, of Falmouth, who unofficially defeated Republican Cathleen Manchester of Gray by just 32 votes.

The close election triggered a recount request that resulted in a reversal of fortune for Manchester, who now finds herself winning the race by 11 votes. But Kate Knox, an attorney for the Maine Democratic Party, had a chance to inspect the ballots from the District 25 town of Long Island. She says something doesn't add up.

"Then we went through and counted the number - the physical number of ballots," she says. "That's when we came up with,'Huh, this count appears to be 21 off.'"

Knox says that on Long Island, the incoming voter list showed that 171 residents had cast ballots on Election Day. But the recount conducted by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap concluded that 192 ballots had been cast in that community, including a batch of 21 that was found separately from the other ballots - all of which were marked for Republican Cathleen Manchester.

The recount process is governed by rules agreed to by both parties and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, and Knox says she believed that the Democrats were entitled to take a closer look at the 21 votes now being described as so-called phantom ballots.

"That is when the Republicans said, 'We're not going to authorize that. We're done. We counted them. We're finished,' " she says. "So we weren't able to go back and really take a comprehensive look and say, 'OK, let's pull these out. Let's figure out where they came from.' "

Instead, those decisions are now in the hands of the Maine Senate, although some Democratic leaders say Dunlap has - or had - the discretion to be able to refer the election results to the Attorney General's Office for investigation.  The secretary says the Maine Constitution is clear on where his authority ends.

"During the recount process is when we have a little bit more control over this, and we can ask a lot of questions and get further materials," Dunlap says. "But now that the recount's been concluded, we don't really have the authority to do that anymore. That train's left the station and gone on to the state Senate. So they will have the authority to obtain any information and materials they require to make a determination who was rightfully elected for Senate District 25."

Republican Senate Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing says Democrats can't keep requesting for election balloting to be re-inspected simply because they don't like the results. A panel dominated by majority Republicans in the Senate will ultimately review the ballots and determine who the winner of the race is based on the ballots they accept as credible.