AUGUSTA — As officials scramble to comply with a Monday request for a recount of the nearly 290,000 ballots cast in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District election, the state’s Republican Party raised questions Tuesday about the transparency of the initial count.

When Secretary of State Matt Dunlap recently certified the results of the race, Democrat Jared Golden’s lead over Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was 600 votes more than the number announced Nov. 15 following the ranked-choice tally. The bump gave the victor a lead of more than 3,500 votes.

That increase caused some head-scratching Tuesday, with state GOP Chairman Jason Savage saying in a prepared statement that the new votes were added “under the cover of darkness with no notification of any of the processes that were taking place and no public observers.”

“Trust in this system is shaken from start to finish,” Savage said.

The votes from six towns, though, were always there, state officials said. They hadn’t been counted properly because of a glitch in the system that elections workers didn’t discover until just before they went home for Thanksgiving vacation, according to Kristen Muszynski, Dunlap’s communications director.

More than 6,100 ExpressVote ballots from the towns — Monroe, Blue Hill, Otis, Van Buren, Mars Hill and Brewer — had been mistakenly fed into a tabulating machine that couldn’t actually count them, she said.

ExpressVote is a tabletop ballot-marking device that allows individuals with disabilities to vote with privacy and independence, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

In the normal cross-checking of ballot counts against results, elections officials discovered the error Nov. 21 and figured out how to fix it Monday, the same day it released the updated figures, Muszynski said.

A vendor “was able to extract those cast vote records” from its equipment Monday “so we could add them to the tabulation for a true and accurate final tabulation,” the Secretary of State’s Office said in a written account Tuesday describing what happened.

It’s the sort of error that sometimes crops up, Muszynski said, as officials compare numbers in every town. Typically, though, nobody knows about the revisions because unofficial results aren’t given out by Dunlap’s office.

In the ranked-choice voting scenario, however, the results had to be released before the normal quality control measures had all been applied, Muszynski said.

In a second news release Tuesday, the GOP’s Savage said it appeared that Golden picked up more votes in the six towns from ranked-choice redistribution than was mathematically possible.

Savage assumed, however, that the extra 600 votes for Golden somehow came from the 562 ballots cast in those six towns for the two independents in the race, when in fact the votes came from the 6,100 ballots missed in the initial count.

Both Poliquin and Golden gained thousands of votes as a result of the error, but Golden gained more, which is why his overall lead increased.

Poliquin has deployed a two-pronged assault to try to reverse his defeat.

First, he filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to declare Maine’s new ranked-choice voting system unconstitutional.

Then, an hour before the final deadline for making a recount request Monday, Poliquin filed the required $5,000 payment to seek a recount by hand of every ballot from each of the 375 towns in the sprawling district.

At the airport in Portland on Tuesday, Poliquin told reporters it is “a very big deal to make sure every vote in Maine is accurately counted, and I think it’s time that we have real ballots counted by real people” instead of “this black box that computes who wins and who loses.”

He described what was going on in Augusta as a “vote-count circus.”

That comment drew a quick response from one of the two independents in the four-way congressional race.

Portland lawyer Tiffany Bond, who finished third, said on Twitter that Poliquin’s words offered an “interesting perspective from a man who brought at least two of the three rings” this year to the 2nd District’s “campaign circus.”

Dunlap, who hadn’t yet laid out a schedule for the recount, said that it will take three or four weeks to complete it. Once it’s done, there will be a final determination of who won and who lost.

Golden said Monday that Poliquin has a right to ask for a recount, but he also said that “dragging this process out only hurts the people we were elected to serve.”

Dunlap said that in previous recounts in Maine, the tabulation machines have proven about 99.9 percent correct. But there are hundreds of ballots that couldn’t be counted by machine because of odd ways that people marked them.

During a hand recount, observers from both the Golden and Poliquin campaigns will eye each ballot alongside state officials. In many cases, ballots that couldn’t be tallied by machine will be added to the totals when it’s clear what a voter intended.

Julie Flynn, Dunlap’s elections chief, told reporters during the initial count that there are a number of ways that ballots can be marked that confuse the tabulating machine but that would be clear to people looking at them.

For instance, she said, there may be ballots on which someone filled in a circle for one candidate and then crossed it out and filled in a different circle. The machine would only see that they’d voted for two people instead of one, tossing it out as a result.

When people look at that sort of ballot, however, it will be possible to tell what that voter actually wanted, Flynn said.

During the initial count, about a dozen state officials handled memory sticks and ballots from sealed boxes on tables set up in front of observers, including those from the campaigns of Poliquin and Golden. It appeared to be a thorough, careful process that raised few questions as it proceeded.

Savage claimed Dunlap’s office simply found more votes “and added them to the totals to expand Jared Golden’s lead” and “didn’t bother telling anyone until this recount deadline was upon us.”

“This is all the more reason for the recount and lawsuit,” Savage said. “Nobody should be able to just add to vote totals under the cover of darkness without proper notification and transparency measures.”

“Those results are sacred. They should not be treated like a seventh-grade homework assignment,” he said.

Muszynski said they are treated with care at every step.

Dunlap’s office said the cross-checking that found the error represents “a continued opportunity for the public to have a more in-depth look at the work and due diligence of our staff.”

“Their thorough work has assured that every vote has been counted in the final tabulation, not only in this race but also in every other state and federal race and state referendum in the state of Maine.”

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Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap announce Nov. 15 in Augusta that Jared Golden of Lewiston won the 2nd Congressional District election Nov. 6. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Final results of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race submitted to Gov. Paul LePage this week by the secretary of state.


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