Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap criticized the campaign of U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin on Sunday for its allegations about mishandled ballot boxes, saying the charges could cause voters to lose confidence in the voting system.

“I feel like I should reach out to the campaign and say, ‘Let us do our work before you assume there is something nefarious happening.’ It could get people thinking there is something wrong,” Dunlap said.

Meanwhile, the Poliquin campaign and the Maine Republican Party both released photos purporting to show unlocked ballot boxes sent to Augusta.

Dunlap was responding to comments made Saturday by Brendan Conley, a spokesman for the campaign of Poliquin, R-2nd District, whose contest against Democrat Jared Golden was not conclusive on Election Day and instead will be resolved by ranked-choice voting tabulations.

Conley said ballot boxes appear to have been mishandled during the ranked-choice process underway in the state capital. He sent several photos to the Portland Press Herald that he claimed showed unlocked ballot boxes. He also claimed there was a report of a clerk at a polling station in Bangor who was counting absentee ballots without any election monitoring, which is illegal.

Dunlap, who has not seen the photos, said he has not received any complaints about unpadlocked ballot boxes. He said Saturday night that the state has a “very rigorous” chain of custody for ballots, “from the printing press to when they’re sealed in a ballot box and beyond.” He also said the boxes that arrived in Augusta without locks contained material irrelevant to the ranked-choice tabulation, such as voter lists.

“Rest assured, all ballot boxes containing actual ballots are not only locked but also have a serialized seal that cannot be reconnected,” the Secretary of State’s Office tweeted Saturday night. “The chain of custody for Mainers’ ballots is very strict, and anyone involved in the transport process must sign off on it.”

 

Dunlap said Sunday that Poliquin’s campaign has raised no complaints or sent any photographs of the alleged mishandling of ballot boxes to him.

“Rather than ask questions, they are going to the media. My entire stock in trade here is based not on the outcome of the election but on voter confidence. I am pretty frustrated by this,” Dunlap said.

The Press Herald emailed the ballot box photos to Dunlap’s office Sunday but the secretary of state said he probably would not have time to view them and did not respond further.

Conley declined to make additional comments Sunday and referred all questions to Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party.

The photos were taken by volunteer monitors for Republicans as the ballot boxes arrived from the 2nd District’s 375 municipalities Thursday and Friday, said Savage.

He said he posted them on the party’s Facebook page. They were posted at 12:47 p.m. Sunday, according to a time stamp on the page. Savage said the photographs, which show stacks of ballot boxes, most with padlocks but some without, were taken by volunteer monitors he knows and trusts. He explained that monitors are observing the tabulation process.

Savage said one of the volunteer monitors overheard a staff member from the Secretary of State’s Office say, “These are the boxes with problems,” indicating the unpadlocked ones.

Asked why the photographs called into question the integrity of the ranked-choice tabulation process, Savage said the pictures speak for themselves.

“What I am saying is, ‘Here are the photos showing evidence of what is being discussed.’ It is not a fantasy here,” Savage said.

Asked whether locks could have been on the side of boxes and not shown in the photographs, Savage said that would not be structurally possible. He said a monitor also asked a Secretary of State’s Office staffer about the unlocked boxes as the ballot boxes arrived.

“It was seen as not a big deal and not a concern to them,” Savage said.

He said it was not up to the Maine Republican Party to file a complaint about the ballot boxes, but rather the responsibility of the Poliquin campaign. He said he did not intend the photos to become the focus of a news story when he posted them on Facebook.

“I was hoping that there would be an answer without this becoming a story,” he said.

Savage said he is not making an accusation of fraud, but he is raising concerns. He said the best way to settle the matter would be to have several witnesses from both sides witness the opening of the boxes to see if there are ballots inside.

Savage said he recorded the clerk at the Bangor polling place on election night counting absentee ballots without election monitoring. He said the video was sent to the Secretary of State’s Office. Dunlap has said he received no complaints about the issue at the Bangor polling station.

Heading into the ranked-choice count, Poliquin, a two-term congressman from Oakland, had a roughly 2,000-vote lead over Golden, of Lewiston, according to unofficial estimates.

The race is being determined by the ranked-choice process because neither of the top two vote-getters won more than 50 percent of the total votes. They had about 46 percent each as of Friday, The Associated Press reported. The vote total also includes ballots cast for independent candidates Tiffany Bond of Portland and William Hoar of Southwest Harbor, who combined received about 24,000 votes out of about 300,000 votes cast.

The ranked-choice tabulations began Friday, continued Saturday and were suspended Sunday. They will resume Monday with paper ballots from about 190 small towns left to scan. A final result is expected by midweek.

Golden’s campaign did not respond Saturday or Sunday to requests for comment.

Maine is the first state in the nation to use ranked-choice voting. It allows voters to list candidates in order of preference in races with three or more candidates. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the ranked-choice process kicks in. A computer algorithm works from the bottom of the standings toward the top, reallocating votes for the eliminated candidates to those still in the running based on the rankings. The process continues until one candidate has more than 50 percent of the total votes.

An Election Day poll by Fair Vote, Colby College professors and the Bangor Daily News concluded that Golden would get 93 percent of the 15,500 Hoar and Bond voters who opted to rank their ballot choices.

 

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