Following a disputed recount and the mysterious appearance of 21 additional ballots, the outcome of the Senate District 25 race is now in the hands of a soon-to-be-filled special committee of state senators. The four Republicans and three Democrats who are named to the panel, however, should do more than pick a winner. They should try to provide some answers, too.

At the end of the night Nov. 4, the vote tally in the race between Republican Cathy Manchester of Gray and Democrat Cathy Breen of Falmouth showed Breen winning the seat by 32 votes, 10,930 to 10,898. However, during a recount, 21 uncounted ballots, all cast for Manchester, were discovered in the ballot box from the small town of Long Island. At the end of the recount, Manchester was ahead by 11 votes, 10,927 to 10,916.

The Maine Democratic Party refused to sign off on the recount, which under the state constitution sends the decision to the Maine Senate. Republican Michael Thibodeau, the incoming Senate president, will now appoint the special committee, which will make a recommendation to the full Senate on who to seat, Breen or Manchester.

Democrats are asking for the committee to conduct a full investigation, and a party attorney said this week that it is considering whether to take the matter to court. Bill Logan, an attorney for the Republican Party, said it is unlikely an investigation would make the situation any clearer, given that the ballots are virtually untraceable.

Logan may be right, but that doesn’t mean the committee shouldn’t dig deeper. There are certainly red flags.

The Long Island town clerk counted 171 voters on Election Day, but now there are 192 ballots. All 21 of the ballots discovered during the recount went to the same candidate. According to the Democrats, the ballots were found together on top of the rest of the ballots, and they appeared to be folded differently than the others.


That could all be explained by any number of honest mistakes. Or, far less likely, it could be nefarious.

Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat now in his fourth term as secretary of state, spoke to the rarity of the situation. “This type of discrepancy has not occurred in recent memory,” he said in a statement.

That may be because ballots don’t typically appear out of thin air. Or it could be because the vast majority of races are not subject to a recount, when closer scrutiny of ballots almost always leads to changes in vote totals. It is only when the vote changes are within the margin of victory, as in the Senate District 25 race, that they are noticed, or even discovered in the first place.

In any case, the circumstances in which the ballots were found put into question the legitimacy of a race that garnered a lot of attention from both parties and ended with the smallest of margins. Manchester, who was on the winning side of that margin after the recount, should be seated until an investigation is complete. And at the outset of what could be another contentious session, the Senate should do what it can to clear the air.

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