UPDATE @ 1:54 :  There may have been a big mistake during the recount of the state Senate District 25 race.

The Senate panel reviewing the contest on Wednesday opened the sealed containers containing ballots from Long Island. Here’s what happened when they did: A possible double-counting of ballots.

The recount from Nov. 18 showed that there were 21 more ballots than voters who were checked off by the Long Island election clerk, Brenda Singo. All of those ballots were counted in separate lots of 50 ballots or less. On Wednesday, state officials opened the locked box for the first time since the recount found that one lot had 21 fewer ballots than it should have, while another had 21 more ballots than recorded on Election Day.

Julie Flynn, the Deputy Secretary of State, said it was possible that the 21 ballots in dispute were double counted.

“I’m chagrined to say so,” said Flynn, acknowledging that there could have been mistake by recount officials.

She added, “I believe we made an error at the recount. I have not seen this happen in 26 years.”

The Senate committee reviewing the controversy over the recount of the state Senate District 25 race between Republican Cathy Manchester and Democrat Cathy Breen began what is expected to be a lengthy review on Tuesday. Close to 30 witnesses, including all of the election clerks involved in the counting of ballots on Long Island, are expected to testify before the committee.

The seven-member committee was appointed by Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau, of Winterport. Republicans have four seats on the committee, Democrats have three.

There’s plenty of background material about the controversy. Here is the first reportand here is a second that explains the chain of custody process for ballots prescribed by Maine election law.

Finally, here’s the latest report from colleague Eric Russell about how the residents of Long Island are reacting to having been thrust into the middle of the controversy.

At issue are 21 ballots, all for Manchester, that were discovered during the recount of the race but were not counted on Election Day. The additional ballots brought the total number of votes cast in the town of Long Island to 192 and effectively changed the winner from Breen to Manchester. Before the ballots turned up in the recount, Breen was the apparent winner, 10,930 to 10,898. After the recount, Manchester was in the lead, 10,927 to 10,916. The final total includes ballots from other towns that had been missing or were changed.

Julie Flynn, the Deputy Secretary of State and head of the Bureau of Elections, provides some additional details about the recount. At one point she mentioned that the wire seals can “pop out” during transit. The ballot containers are still locked. Town Clerk Brenda Singo has one key, the Secretary of State has the other. Flynn said that the Long Island ballot containers appeared to be properly sealed and locked at the recount.

After the containers for Senate District 25 were opened, the counters — a Democrat and a Republican — begin counting the ballots. They don’t stop until they agree on the count for each town. Flynn noted that one of her staff remarked that one of the bundles for Long Island seemed heavier than the 21 ballots that were recorded on the tally sheet.

And that’s the issue: How did 21 ballots get in that box? As Russell reported in his piece, two of the election clerks that worked on Long Island are still confident that 171 ballots counted on Election Day was the correct count.

Flynn was asked if there is any way to distinguish the 21 ballots from the other ballots in the lot pictured above. She said there wasn’t. She did not know if the 21 ballots contained votes for candidates in other races. She refuted some speculation that the ballots were folded differently.

Flynn’s testimony will lay the groundwork for the afternoon. The panel is expected to open the Long Island ballot box. It will also hear from Long Island Town Clerk Brenda Singo, along with the other election clerks who worked on Nov. 4. Perhaps then the committee will learn why there were 21 more votes discovered during the recount than were recorded on Election Day.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a member of the committee, noted that the discrepancy represented a difference of 12 percent. He asked Flynn if the discrepancy was unusual.

“I think you want to hear how the voting list was maintained on Election Day,” Flynn told the committee. “For this number of votes, that’ a lot of human error.”

The committee took a break for lunch just before 1 p.m. It’s expected to reconvene and open the Long Island ballot box.

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