AUGUSTA – Senate Democrats successfully fended off a challenge to their single-seat majority Thursday evening when a ballot recount in western Maine’s District 24 affirmed the party’s candidate by a 12-vote margin.
Before the daylong inspection of ballots, Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, appeared to have defeated Robert A. Cameron, R-Rumford, by 55 votes. But when all of the votes were recounted by officials with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, the Democratic candidate’s lead had diminished by 43 votes. Thirty-four ballots were disputed by both candidates and excluded from the final tally of 6,834 to 6,822.
Monitoring the recount for Republicans, Andre Cushing of Hampden said it was clear that once half of the disputed ballots were resolved, there was no way Cameron could prevail. But for a moment late in the afternoon, it appeared the Republican might have just pulled off an upset.
“Fryeburg had 51 votes that shifted to Cameron, and then Cameron was leading by around 14 votes until they got to Woodstock, the final town to be recounted,” Cushing said. “There appeared to be an accounting error because the ballots were counted and matched the tallies, but the total for the town shifted by 20 votes.”
“The Fryeburg vote was a little hairy,” said Jim Case, a Topsham lawyer representing Bryant. “But then a couple of other towns came in the other way. But the margin held strong, and it was a decisive win.”
Both men said the disputed votes were discarded largely because of extraneous markings on the ballots that led observers to question the intent of the voters. The recount took place under the supervision of Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn in a secure building on the grounds of the Maine State Police compound in Augusta.
On Dec. 4, new members will be sworn in to the Maine Senate, which, pending recounts in two other races, will be composed of 18 Democrats and 17 Republicans.
Although 587 votes separate Edward Youngblood, the apparent Republican winner, and second-place finisher Charles Fisher for Brewer’s District 6 recount, election watchers at Thursday’s recount said a major tabulating error would have to be identified to force a reversal of the apparent outcome.
But a recount set for Monday is anyone’s call. In District 16, Christopher Hall, the apparent Democratic winner from Brunswick, holds a razor-thin, two-vote margin over Republican challenger Leslie Fossel of Alna. Unofficial returns indicate a total of 17,794 ballots were cast for both men.
“Monday appears to be the race to watch,” said Cushing. “This one today was not expected to have turned around quite as significantly as it did, but having gone through this recount process – particularly when you’re talking about paper ballots and folks who are up late – unintentional errors are made.”