Political analysts and former state senators Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman discuss the new Legislature and the disputed Senate seat.

Phil: Now that all these new legislators have been sworn in, how long do you expect it will be before they are sworn at?

Ethan: I expect most already have. As you always say, you walk into that building feeling like a rooster. You walk out feeling like a feather duster.

Phil: Have I ever told you the story about when I was first sworn in and Gov. John McKernan took me into his office?

Ethan: About 100 times, but please, tell me again.

Phil: Thanks for asking! On my first day, Gov. McKernan said, “When you are in the chamber raising your right hand. I promise you, you will have such a feeling of pride. You will look out over your colleagues and say to yourself, ‘How did I get here?’ Within six months, you will again look out over the chamber and your colleagues and you will say, ‘How in the world did the rest of these people get here?'”


Ethan: Classic and so true! But your first day seems much more inspirational than mine. My first day was filled with a “one-of-a-kind” ferocious fight over whether to seat a senator in a contested coastal election.

Phil: The song remains the same.

Ethan: Except last time Democrats wanted the winner seated and Republicans felt it should be left open. This time Democrats don’t want anyone seated, while Republicans are saying the district must be represented.

Phil: Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss.

Ethan: Just for the record, I sided with the Democrats in 2002, and I side with the Republicans in 2014. Leaving the district without representation is simply not cool.

Phil: Agreed, on both counts. Especially since this is my senator. How are you feeling about the recount committee?


Ethan: Very good. Republican Roger Katz of Augusta will be an excellent chairman and Democrat Bill Diamond will be invaluable as a former secretary of state. Most of the rules currently in place to ensure the integrity of our elections (or discover improprieties) were put in place by him after the 1992 ballot scandal in which a former aide to the speaker of the House went to jail.

Phil: I agree. Roger led the investigation into the Maine Turnpike Authority, which led to Paul Violette pleading guilty, and by all accounts he led a fair and thorough process. And Diamond is equally well respected, especially around electoral issues. The fact that improprieties can land those involved in jail emphasizes the importance of the committee’s work.

Ethan: Not to mention the importance of making sure elections are transparent. For my money, the committee’s initial work must be focused on whether these extra ballots are actually extra or whether they were simply mishandled.

Phil: Agreed. And to accomplish that goal, at a minimum, they may need to subpoena the warden, clerks and counters to have them testify as to what happened that night.

Ethan: Before I started subpoenaing people, a more revealing path will be to simply call the 67 people on the manifest who are not checked off. Based on those calls, determine if it appears as many as 21 could have been handed a ballot without being checked off. If you determine that happened, you have answered the most important question.

Phil: The controversy and media attention surrounding those who weren’t checked off may make people reluctant to even answer questions, or they may have left the island for the season. But, if you can verify that there are indeed 21 people who voted that weren’t checked off, the rest really becomes a set of coincidences. A remarkable set of coincidences, to be sure. But at least you know the ballots in the box came from actual voters.


Ethan: But similarly, if you determine that there are not 21 people who remember voting but weren’t checked off, then you have a very big problem on your hands.

Phil: Yes, you do. Perhaps that’s the point where they start issuing subpoenas of all the workers/volunteers who had access to ballots, tally sheets and the locked box at the end of the night.

Ethan: So if after all this investigation we know nothing more than we do now, then what?

Phil: We look to Maine’s Constitution. It says the final decision rests solely with the Maine Senate, which has already voted to seat Cathy Manchester.

Ethan: Or they could change their mind and order a new vote on Long Island.

Phil: Heaven help the voters of Long Island. Can you imagine all the campaigning, money and “communications” that would barrage this quaint island of 238 voters? I can see it now. Someone bringing you coffee (“compliments of Breen” printed on the cup) while they load your bags onto the ferry. Someone on the mainland bringing your warmed car dockside (with new “Manchester warmed your seat” floor mats), while someone else shoveled your walkway. That would get ridiculous.


Ethan: I think you’re right. If they called for a new election, it would have to be district-wide. If for no other reason than everyone in the district should have the right to vote based on any new information.

Phil: What about the people who voted on Election Day who may be unavailable now? Wouldn’t they be disenfranchised? The best outcome here is that the committee delivers a unanimous explanation that we can accept and move on.

Ethan: If that’s possible. On that, we definitely agree.

Phil Harriman is a former Republican state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling is a former Democratic state senator from Portland. They can be contacted on Facebook at Agree to Disagree or Twitter: @senpeh and @ethan6_2.

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