Every time I drive into Portland at “rush hour” and offer even the slightest complaint about traffic, my belovable wife, who grew up north of Boston, can barely hold back her laughter. There are two things they know down there in Massachusetts that we can hardly imagine. One is real traffic jams. The other is widespread political corruption.

Massachusetts has a history of corruption in politics that would make most Mainers blush, including regularly carting off to jail their Speakers of the House. Here in Maine, even the suggestion of corruption, let alone something as scurrilous as ballot tampering, can bring the whole state to a standstill.

None of us wanted to think the worst about the recent dustup over mystery ballots from Long Island. But we wondered. How could 21 ballots suddenly appear out of nowhere? How could new ballots be put into a ballot box without breaking the seal? And who, for that matter, would resort to this lowest form of political crime, stuffing a ballot box?

It all seemed so impossibly brazen. What kind of person could be so driven by partisanship and — there’s no other word for it — so stupid that they would stuff a ballot box with a bundle of new ballots and mark them all for one candidate? Didn’t they have the common sense to sprinkle in a few ballots for the other candidate, to cover their tracks?

This week, all of our questions were answered when the committee investigating the matter recounted the previous recount. It turns out that a bundle of 21 ballots for one candidate had accidentally been put into the wrong bundle and double counted. We could all breathe again.

As happens in these things, you learn a lot about people by how they act during a crisis, when high-minded words give way to more basic instincts. In those moments, some people step forward and shine, while others step back and shrink into their smaller selves. So it was with this challenge to the integrity of our voting process and our democracy.

A gallery of heroes came forward to do the right thing, and they deserve our profoundest thanks. First among them was Brenda Singo, the town clerk of Long Island, and all the other people who helped her on Election Day. They, along with hundreds of others like them across the state, represent the best of our long tradition of honest elections.

The Republican chairman of the investigation committee in Augusta, Roger Katz, and his Democratic counterpart Bill Diamond, brought their integrity and love of Maine to the process, ensuring that, despite the efforts of some Republican leaders to sweep the matter under the rug, their investigation would be thorough and honest. And it was.

The two candidates involved, Cathy Breen and Cathy Manchester, also acted with dignity throughout this ordeal, which had to be enormously difficult and painful on a personal level.

Regrettably, not everyone in this saga acted so nobly. The Republican attorney who refused to allow the Long Island ballots to be reviewed after the discrepancy was clear, seemed to care less about who people elected than what party took the seat. Incoming Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau went so far as to derisively accuse Democrats of being “sore losers,” after they asked the perfectly legitimate question of how a small town’s vote could suddenly increase by more than 10 percent in a recount.

Even the Republican party chairman, Rick Bennett, who before taking the highly-partisan job of party chairman had a well-deserved reputation for integrity and moderation, went so far as to accuse Democrats of “dishonesty” for raising questions about the counting.

It was a perfect illustration of politicians putting party interests first. We can only hope that they have learned this essential lesson from their experience: The integrity of elections is far more important to Maine people than which party or which ideology wins.

Maine isn’t a perfect place, to be sure, but in moments like this we’re allowed to feel a rightful pride in our remarkably corruption-free elections. We trust that the election system will work properly, and it almost always does. When it doesn’t, it corrects itself, as it’s designed to do.

Some things are bigger, in any moment in time, than what is best for a political party or for any individual. The integrity of our democracy is one of those things. It is a gift given to us that we’re obliged to pass onto future generations, undamaged and intact.

That’s exactly what happened over these last two weeks.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is a partner in the Caron and Egan consulting group, which is active in growing Maine’s next economy. Email at [email protected]


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