AUGUSTA – Republicans all but ceded a disputed Senate seat to the Democratic candidate Monday after two separate court decisions failed to overturn a recount in District 16 or block the secretary of state from submitting election results.
Shortly after 5:30 p.m., Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky forwarded to the Governor’s Office the results of the Nov. 5 election listing Bristol Democrat Christopher Hall as the apparent winner. Gov. Angus S. King is expected to certify the vote today and notify the apparent legislative winners.
Toward the end of the day Monday, tempers flared between attorneys for the Republican and Democratic candidates, who angrily bantered back and forth over which side had failed to negotiate in good faith to resolve the hotly contested Wiscasset-area Senate race.
Although the lawyers managed to winnow down the number of disputed ballots from 63 to 44 on Monday, the recount results remained unchanged with Hall maintaining a nine-vote lead over Republican challenger Leslie Fossel of Alna.
“Before today, I had won twice,” Hall said. “I won again twice today and I guess I’ll have to win a couple of more times before this is all over.”
Pending the results of a final appeal of a Superior Court ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court at 2 p.m. today, it appeared Democratic Gov.-elect John Baldacci of Bangor will have a Democratic House and Senate giving his party control of the State House for the first time in 16 years.
Earlier in the day, Fossel’s attorneys asked Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Roland A. Cole to issue an order compelling the Secretary of State’s Office to include the 63 disputed ballots as part of the final count and to grant a stay preventing the secretary of state from forwarding the recount results to the governor. Cole concluded he did not have jurisdiction to intervene in the dispute and insisted that the Maine Constitution clearly stipulates that each house of the Legislature will be the determiner of its own elections. Fossel later appealed that ruling to the high court.
In a related matter Monday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court responded to an inquiry from Gov. Angus S. King and affirmed the historical perspective that the governor lacks the authority to intervene in ballot disputes.
Therefore, the justices concluded, he was required to accept the election results forwarded to him by the secretary of state. Senate Republicans had hoped state law governing the certification process was worded broadly enough to give King some flexibility in reviewing the results of the vote.
Stakes are high because the lack of a decision in District 16 has left the Senate evenly divided between 17 Republicans and 17 Democrats. Fossel and his supporters claimed they would have won by five votes if ballots that were marked in red or blue pencil, instead of black pencil, had been counted. Hall countered that the Republicans were using a double standard by challenging ballots marked in ink instead of pencil when they were votes for him, but allowing them when they were votes for Fossel.
King is expected to certify the voting results sent to him by the secretary of state later today allowing Hall to be sworn into office with other new legislators Dec. 4. Hall’s victory will give Senate Democrats a one-seat majority and he has vowed to vote for himself if his inclusion in the Senate is put to a vote in the chamber.
Sen. Mary Small, R-Bath, was still hoping the high court would grant a stay for certification on the grounds that Secretary of State Gwadosky, a former Democratic House speaker, had made calls to voters encouraging them to vote for several Democratic Senate candidates before the election.
“He should have recused himself when we asked him to,” she said. “[Gwadosky] said it was the governor’s job to certify the elections and his was just kind of pro forma. That clearly is not that case. He has made a decision in a race in which he was a participant and I think that’s a conflict of interest.”