LONG ISLAND — Kim MacVane was one of six people who spent election night counting ballots by hand at the tiny town hall on Long Island.

That’s why she has been racking her brain to find an explanation ever since a Nov. 18 recount in the Senate District 25 race inexplicably turned up 21 extra ballots from her town.

“If something suspicious happened, and I think probably it did, I just can’t see how it could have happened here,” she said last week from the island post office, just a short walk from the weathered wooden ferry terminal that serves as the main link between the Casco Bay island and the mainland.

On Tuesday, a panel of lawmakers led by Republican Sen. Roger Katz is scheduled to meet in Augusta to sort out the mess and decide which candidate will be seated: Democrat Cathy Breen of Falmouth, who initially was declared the narrow winner, or Republican Cathy Manchester of Gray, who overtook Breen during the recount, in large part because of the 21 extra ballots that were all checked in her favor.

The hearing is expected to be lengthy and tedious and, given the partisan cloud that often hangs over Augusta, it could be contentious as well.

Whatever the outcome, residents of Long Island want to see the mystery unraveled for a couple of reasons.

First, they want to be out of the news and go back to their quiet lives away from the mainland.

Second, they want the truth to come out because they believe it will absolve the town from any culpability in what could be a huge political scandal.

“People are questioning the integrity of our town. They are insinuating that we broke the law,” said Annie Donovan, who works at the Boat House, a convenience store not far from the ferry dock. It’s a place to get coffee in the morning and beer in the afternoon. Many of the store’s regulars keep a tab and pay at the end of the month.

In addition to questioning the community’s credibility, people are looking at Long Island as though it’s filled with a bunch of simpletons who don’t know how to count, Donovan said.

She resents that.

A BY-THE-BOOK TOWN CLERK

Long Island, one of several inhabited islands in Casco Bay, is a 45-minute ferry ride from Portland.

The rural town is only 1.4 square miles. There is no real center or village or gathering place, but there doesn’t seem to be a need for one. Its residents take being neighborly to a new level. It’s the kind of place where if you are walking down the road, the first car along will stop and ask if you need a ride.

Long Island is fiercely independent, both geographically and, as of 21 years ago, by a binding vote. That was when residents decided overwhelmingly to secede from the city of Portland.

The island’s population swells to 700 or 800 in the summer, but only about 250 live there year-round – a hodge-podge of diehards, many of whom make their livings from the ocean.

It is by far the smallest community in Senate District 25, which also includes Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, Gray, Chebeague Island and parts of Westbrook. Of the nearly 22,000 votes cast in the district on Nov. 4, fewer than 1 percent came from Long Island. That’s the same whether using the number of votes counted by the town, 171, or the number tallied during the recount, 192.

It’s the only community in District 25 that counts ballots by hand.

The person most responsible for the custody of Long Island’s votes is Brenda Singo, the town clerk. Singo declined to be interviewed for this story and has said she wants to hold all of her comments until the investigation is complete.

But about a dozen island residents who spoke late last week all said the same thing about Singo: She is unflinchingly by-the-book.

“Brenda Singo is beyond squeaky clean,” said island resident Jim Thibault. “This girl doesn’t let you get away with anything.”

MacVane said that if you were Singo’s brother and came to town hall to get your car registered, you better have proof of insurance or you’d be turned away.

“She treats everyone the same,” MacVane said.

Others characterized Singo’s approach to her job as “military-like.”

So if Singo and her election clerks counted 171 votes on election night and then locked the ballots away in a sealed box, the residents of Long Island said they have no reason to doubt her.

“It’s so easy to say it happened on Long Island. It’s convenient,” said Brian Murphy, who became agitated talking about the whole ordeal. “But how come everyone knows the name of the clerk on Long Island now, but no one knows who opened up that box in Augusta?”

THE ELECTION NIGHT VOTE COUNT

MacVane expects to be among those asked to testify before the legislative committee. Here is what she is likely to say, at least in part:

Ballots come in sealed bundles of 50 from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Long Island received five bundles ahead of Nov. 4 because there are 238 registered voters – 84 Democrats, 70 Republicans, 78 unenrolled and six Green Independents.

During the course of Election Day, only four of those bundles were opened. The fifth remained sealed.

In the fourth bundle, only 21 ballots were handed out on Election Day. MacVane said she knows this because she and others had to hand-stamp the remaining 29 ballots as canceled. It’s a big, red rubber stamp that cannot be removed.

Once the vote counters checked and double-checked their numbers, they put the 171 ballots inside a box, locked the box and affixed a numbered seal. Every voting community gets a seal from the Secretary of State’s Office.

MacVane also said there is another reason she believes that the 171 number is accurate. In addition to the statewide vote, residents of Long Island voted on a separate ballot for representatives to the board of Casco Bay Lines, which operates the ferry service.

MacVane said only 169 people voted in the local race, two fewer than the number she counted for the Senate race.

“Wouldn’t there have been more in that race?” she said. “I mean, it seems like those numbers should match, or come close.”

Donovan, who also counted votes, offered pretty much the same rundown of election night. She said the town office is too small for anything to have happened that would not have been witnessed by others.

“We count by hand, but there are so many checks in the system,” she said. “And it’s not like we’re counting thousands of ballots. We would notice a discrepancy of 20.”

BALLOT MYSTERY UNSEALED IN AUGUSTA

MacVane didn’t think much about the election results, even after she saw media coverage reporting that the narrow Senate District 25 race would likely lead to a recount.

On Nov. 19, the day after the recount, a longtime Long Island resident and lobsterman named Steven Michael Hanson, or just Mike to islanders, was found dead in his driveway. He had fallen at his home and struck his head.

Hanson’s death hit the community hard, MacVane said, and suddenly the mystery of 21 ballots took a back seat.

But she and others kept seeing news reports about the recount and speculation that something illicit must have happened on Long Island.

During the recount, when the locked, sealed box of ballots was opened in Augusta – presumably for the first time since election night – the total number had grown from 171 to 192.

The extra 21 votes were all cast for Manchester, and Maine Democratic Party officials have said the ballots were placed on top of the stack and appeared to be folded differently than the others.

MacVane said she has counted votes during elections going back 14 years on Long Island and has never seen a scenario in which one candidate would have that many votes on consecutive ballots.

“It just doesn’t happen,” she said.

That’s just another reason why Long Island residents believe that if any ballot-stuffing occurred, it had to have happened in Augusta.

“The (state) will never admit it,” Murphy said. “But we’ve got no political reason to do something like that here.”

Resident Alanna Rich agreed. She has worked on elections in the past, and said anyone who worked on election night and was involved with counting ballots would have had to know that the District 25 race would be close, and would have had to know that a recount was possible.

“We run professional elections here,” she said. “Just because we count by hand doesn’t mean we’re some backwater place.”

ISLAND PREFERS TO BE OUT OF SPOTLIGHT

The legislative hearing, which could stretch beyond Tuesday, will attempt to address the unanswered questions, but it may not clear everything up.

One question some residents offered was: If Brenda Singo, the town clerk who appears above reproach, stored the locked box of ballots at town hall, could someone else have accessed the key?

Perhaps, but that doesn’t explain the seal, which was intact when the ballots were delivered to Augusta.

Another resident had a suggestion: Why not get fingerprints from the 21 ballots in question? It might remove any doubt about Long Island, but it may also turn up a smoking gun.

It’s not likely, though, that fingerprints will be taken because there is no criminal investigation. At least not yet.

Lorinda Valls, an unofficial town messenger of sorts, said the recount has become the talk of the community, but no one has proffered a conspiracy theory that involves anyone from Long Island.

“It’s a topic of discussion, but it’s more like ‘I wonder what’s going to happen up there,’ ” she said, referring to Augusta.

Residents talk of Augusta as if it’s another planet. It’s a testament to their independence. They relish being detached from the mainland. They can join the real world when they choose and be left alone the rest of the time.

Right now, though, they won’t feel left alone until the election mystery is solved or at least resolved.

Until then, the lingering sentiment seems to be a cross between amusement that their little island might be caught up in election fraud, and frustration that someone would want to smear Long Island’s reputation.

Donovan, like so many residents, is convinced that Long Island will be vindicated.

“I’m glad that it’s being investigated so people can see we had nothing to do with this,” she said, hesitating for a moment before offering a tiny sliver of doubt. “We’ll all look pretty foolish if we’re wrong.”