The month-long saga of the state Senate District 25 race is over. The controversy over a disputed recount and 21 mystery ballots from Long Island was resolved in a eureka moment Tuesday at the State House.

When the dust settled, Democrat Cathy Breen of Falmouth finished ahead of Republican Cathy Manchester of Gray in the race to represent several towns in Portland’s northern suburbs, including the tiny Casco Bay island.

The discovery stemmed from a mundane act that could have taken place before the entire mess started. All they needed to do was recount the ballots.

It may be hard to imagine a crowd so riveted by people counting out loud to 171, the number of ballots on Long Island. But that’s how it was in the balmy, standing-room-only chambers when state officials opened up the locked ballot container from Long Island and double-checked the math.

In the end, there was no election fraud. There were no extra ballots. Twenty-one of them were simply counted twice during a state-supervised Nov. 18 recount of the contest.

During the controversy – which was heavily reported and relentlessly flogged by partisans who raised the specter of wrongdoing – a cast of characters was shoved onto the public stage for examination.

Cathy Manchester, Republican District 25 candidate.

Cathy Manchester, Republican District 25 candidate.

Cathy Manchester of Gray,

Republican District 25 candidate

She lost. She won. She lost again.

And to think Manchester was somewhat of a reluctant candidate.

“It was a venture not taken lightly,” said Manchester, who owns a real estate company in Gray. “I talked extensively with my family and with my business partners about it. We collectively decided that I was being asked to serve and it was time to do it. That’s kind of how I’ve led my life.”

Manchester was sworn in after the recount and her name was put on the board in the Senate chamber along with 34 duly elected members. She received the badge that allows legislators and staff to get around the Capitol Security checkpoint.

Nonetheless, Manchester quickly resigned her seat after the recount mistake was discovered. She expressed no regrets, save one.

“Hopefully in the future people won’t be quite so quick to rush to allegations of wrongdoing,” she said. “That’s the tragedy that came out of this. There was a quick judgment to possible fraud and that’s obviously not what happened.”

She added, “As for a personal loss, I was called upon to do my part and I think I did that. Perhaps my role was to help preserve the integrity of the voting process.”

Will she ever run again?

“Only if there’s a great need,” Manchester said.

522603_CatherineBreenCathy Breen of Falmouth,

Democratic District 25 candidate

She won. She lost. She won again.

So went the seesaw for Breen.

The former Falmouth town councilor is expected to be sworn in when the Legislature reconvenes in January. Her name is already on the board in the Senate. Manchester’s has been removed.

A week earlier, Breen stood in the balcony and watched as Manchester was provisionally sworn in by Gov. Paul LePage. At the time, she said it was a step she would not have taken if the roles had been reversed.

“A dark cloud remains over the recount results in Senate District 25,” she said in a statement on Dec. 3. “Until that mystery is solved and we know why there were 21 more ballots than voters, I believe no one should occupy that seat.”

Asked in a subsequent interview to describe how she felt that day, Breen stuck to the prepared statement she issued on swearing-in day.

“In a nutshell, as I reflect on this, it was a challenging situation,” she said. “Everyone involved conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism and really worked hard to protect the integrity of our election system.”

She told reporters on Tuesday that she was looking forward to the legislative session and working to advance bills to expand health care and raise the minimum wage.

Brenda Singo, Long Island town clerk.

Brenda Singo, Long Island town clerk.

Brenda Singo,

Long Island town clerk

Singo has been the town clerk for Long Island since 1999. It’s hard to imagine her job being more eventful than it was over the past month.

A registered Republican, she became the focus of scrutiny – and in some circles suspicion – when the 21 extra ballots for Manchester turned up during the Nov. 18 recount, flipping the Election Day result from Breen to Manchester.

Singo immediately began fielding media inquiries and Freedom of Access Act requests for her voter list. Where was it? How could these extra ballots have materialized? Who worked with you on Election Day? Were the ballots secured? Who had the key to the locked ballot box?

“It’s been a very difficult two weeks,” Singo told reporters upon the discovery that her Election Day count was correct. She said the first reports of the mystery ballots were “very disheartening.” She opted not to talk to the media until after she testified before a committee reviewing the recount.

That testimony never came. It wasn’t needed. The innuendo that Singo and her election team had made a mistake, or worse, tampered with the ballots, proved to be false. Singo said she was confident that Long Island had it right all along.

“I’m a by-the-books person,” she said. “I have the checklist provided by the Secretary of State’s Office. When the polls close, we go step by step, dot our i’s and cross our t’s to the best of our ability.”

Julie Flynn, deputy secretary of state.

Julie Flynn, deputy secretary of state.

Julie Flynn,

deputy secretary of state

Flynn, Maine’s election chief for nearly 20 years, said she has been involved in more than 150 recounts.

She’ll remember this one.

“I’ve been dreaming about it and thinking about it ever since,” she said.

The state’s recount process is designed to confirm election results, to remove all doubt from outcomes. This time the recount erroneously reversed the outcome, casting doubts on everything from who was the real winner to the integrity of state-mandated steps to protect ballots.

In the end, ballot security turned out to be airtight. Flynn said if there’s a silver lining, it’s that.

“You never want an error to turn an election,” she said. “But at least we know that there was no fraud and there’s no unknown.”

Flynn hopes there’s a way to prevent it from happening again. The next time there’s a sharp discrepancy between the Election Day count and the recount, she said, state officials should review all of the materials, and if necessary, count again.

At the same time, she’s wary of overreacting to an unprecedented mistake, of engineering a process that bogs down the system.

“You can’t protect against all human error,” she said.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta.

Sen. Roger Katz,

R-Augusta

Katz was asked to head the Senatorial Election Committee, the panel charged with reviewing the recount, by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and he was a little nervous about it.

“My biggest concern was that we’d never get to the bottom of what happened,” said Katz, a former mayor of Augusta who has a reputation at the State House for being thorough, tough and fair.

Katz’s committee lined up 30 witnesses and after reviewing the balloting process was poised to grill election officials about what happened.

But the questioning never took place. Katz said the committee’s chief contribution to solving the mystery was relatively simple: They asked state officials to open the Long Island ballot box and recount the ballots.

“It was like a movie scene,” Katz said. “The secret had been revealed. It was pretty dramatic.”

Katz wasn’t thrilled with the partisan buildup.

“I do think it’s unfortunate that the instinct of some people, particularly the leadership of the Maine Democratic Party, was to start fanning the flames of voter fraud and ballot stuffing,” he said.

As for changes in the recount process to prevent the double-counting from happening again, Katz said policymakers shouldn’t overreact.

“We should let the dust settle on this,” he said.