The Maine Democratic Party is calling for an investigation into ballot count discrepancies on Long Island that tipped the scales in favor of the Republican candidate in the Senate District 25 race in Portland’s northern suburbs.

The party’s claim involves 21 ballots from the island town that appeared on Nov. 18, when the Secretary of State’s Office conducted a recount in the race between Republican Cathy Manchester of Gray and Democrat Cathy Breen of Falmouth. The ballots were not tabulated by Long Island officials on election night Nov. 4, and all 21 of them were cast for Manchester, according to a written statement Tuesday from Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.

The 21 ballots, combined with ballots from other towns that had been missing or were changed in the recount, were enough to reverse the results of the election and give Manchester an 11-vote victory over Breen, 10,927 to 10,916. The unofficial election night results, before the recount, showed Breen beating Manchester by 32 votes, 10,930 to 10,898.

The Maine Democratic Party did not accept the results of the recount, which means the Maine Senate will create a special committee to review the recount and recommend a winner to the full Senate. Republicans will control the Senate when it is sworn in Dec. 3 and will hold four of the seven seats on the committee, which has broad discretion to make a recommendation as it evaluates the recount results.

Kate Knox, a Maine Democratic Party attorney, hopes the Senate committee investigates the Long Island ballots before making its recommendation. Specifically, she wants the committee to order a new recount and subpoena the Long Island town clerk to explain why the official tally on a sealed box of ballots, as well as a voter manifest, differed from the number of ballots inside the box.

Long Island officials checked off the names of voters as they entered the polls on Election Day, and the final list showed that 171 ballots were cast. The unofficial results that night showed Breen with 95 votes, Manchester with 65 votes and 11 ballots with no selection in their race.

But when the locked box containing the ballots was opened during the recount last week, there were 192 ballots rather than 171, and all of the additional votes were cast for Manchester. That changed the final tally to 95 votes for Breen, 86 for Manchester and 11 with no selection.

Knox said the party was considering legal remedies because there could be voter fraud.

“The Long Island issue with 21 phantom ballots is very problematic, in terms of voter fraud,” Knox said. “Does that open up some other possibilities in the court? We’re still looking at that.”

She noted that “voter fraud has been a big deal for the Republicans for a long time. I would hope that they take this very seriously.”

Brenda L. Singo, the Long Island town clerk, declined to verify the Democratic Party’s claim of phantom ballots and referred calls to Dunlap, the secretary of state. Kristen Schulze Muszynski, a spokeswoman for Dunlap, said the issue was now in the hands of the Senate committee.

Dunlap, a Democrat elected by the Legislature, could initiate an investigation if he suspects that any balloting irregularities rose to the level of criminal activity. He did not appear to be leaning in that direction Tuesday afternoon.

“This type of discrepancy has not occurred in recent memory,” Dunlap said in his statement. “It will be up to the Senate to try to discern what’s happened here.”

In an interview, Dunlap said the discrepancy between election night and the recount may not have been flagged by either election officials or party lawyers because it’s rare, although it has happened before, particularly in small towns like Long Island where ballots are counted by hand. If the discrepancy had been questioned by one of the party attorneys, Dunlap said, election officials could have halted the recount and launched an inquiry. A criminal investigation, he said, would ultimately have to find intent of ballot stuffing, or fraud.

The District 25 seat represents Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, Gray, Long Island, Chebeague Island and parts of Westbrook.

Knox originally had disputed 10 missing ballots in the recount from Cumberland and Westbrook. She refused to sign off on the recount, even though the 10 missing ballots were not enough to overcome Manchester’s 11-vote lead. The Democrats’ focus has now shifted to Long Island, where the most recent data from the secretary of state shows 238 registered voters, including 84 Democrats, 70 Republicans, 78 unenrolled and six Green Independents.

Rachel Irwin, a spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party, told the Press Herald that the 21 ballots for Manchester were discovered at the top of the original pile of ballots in the locked box from Long Island and appeared to be folded differently than the others.

When Knox was asked why she didn’t challenge the Long Island ballots as she did the 10 in Cumberland and Westbrook, she said she had noted to state recount officials that the 21 ballots from Long Island were “very odd” and eventually requested to go through all the ballots a second time. Knox said that Bill Logan, the attorney observing the recount for the Maine Republican Party, declined to recount again. Knox said Julie Flynn, the deputy secretary of state overseeing the recount, did not think she had the authority to initiate a second recount without both parties’ consent.

Knox then refused to sign off on the results.

Logan said it was unusual to discover additional ballots during a recount, but not unheard of. He said 50 additional ballots were found during the recount for Senate District 11 that was held a week before the Senate District 25 recount. In that race, he said, nobody questioned the additional ballots because they didn’t affect the outcome.

“I understand why they’d be upset,” Logan said of Democrats, but he didn’t think a second recount would solve the mystery. For one thing, the 21 ballots in question are now mixed in with all the other ballots from Long Island.

“I don’t think looking at any of those ballots is going to answer any of the hypothetical questions that the Democrats have,” he said.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler