The discovery of more than 6,000 uncounted ballots from six towns became a flashpoint Tuesday in the debate over ranked-choice voting during Maine’s hotly contested 2nd Congressional District race.

While Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, said the incident underscores the thoroughness of Maine’s election staff, Maine Republican Party officials dubbed the vote-count discrepancy as the “latest RCV farce.”

The votes in question came from six towns: Brewer, Blue Hill, Otis, Monroe, Van Buren and Mars Hill. Disabled voters in those towns were allowed to use special ballots designed to be more accessible. But when the ExpressVote ballots were fed into the ballot-reading machines, they caused an error that affected all other ballots scanned in that batch.

The error meant that 6,125 ballots were not included in the Nov. 15 ranked-choice voting runoff that ended with Democrat Jared Golden defeating incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Dunlap said staff discovered the discrepancy while attempting to “certify” the final election results after the ranked-choice runoff. Both Golden and Poliquin gained several thousand more votes as a result of the additional ballots, and the Democrat’s margin of victory grew from 2,905 to 3,509 votes.

“We discovered when we were reconciling our final numbers that we were missing some,” Dunlap said. “Easily enough corrected, and it didn’t change the outcome of the election. … This is very similar to what we do every election.”

But Poliquin, who is challenging the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in court, pointed to the discrepancy as one justification for his request for a hand recount of the nearly 300,000 ballots cast in the 2nd District.

“Why is the Secretary of State’s Office finding hundreds of new ballots yesterday, two weeks after the circus was supposed to be over?” Poliquin said during a news conference Tuesday.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party and a vocal opponent of ranked-choice voting, also questioned how the votes were “found,” as well as the timing of the announcement.

“Trust in this system is shaken from start to finish, and now we are told that Secretary of State Dunlap simply ‘found’ more votes and added them to the totals to expand Jared Golden’s lead, but that he didn’t bother telling anyone until this recount deadline was upon us,” Savage said in a written statement. “This addition to the vote count appears to us to have been done under the cover of darkness with no notification of any of the processes that were taking place and no public observers.”

But Dunlap said all ballot processing leading up to the ranked-choice tabulation was public. And elections staff caught the discrepancy before certifying the final results and announcing them to the public.

“We don’t work for the campaigns,” Dunlap said. “We work for the voters.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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