February 15, 2012

Some in GOP want recount in Maine caucuses

With errors, underreporting and a whole county put on hold, others say it's time to switch to a primary instead.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Republicans are pressuring their party's leaders for a recount of Mitt Romney's narrow victory over Ron Paul in Maine's closely watched Republican caucuses.

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Mitt Romney, left, won the Maine caucuses by a small margin, but supporters of Ron Paul, right, allege bias.

The Associated Press

Charles Webster
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Charlie Webster

The Associated Press

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And some say it may be time to get rid of Maine's quirky process for selecting presidential candidates and switch to conventional primary elections – with voting booths and counting machines.

"If we are to do a primary, we need to bring that up before the Legislature," said Kim Pettengill, a Republican State Committee member representing Kennebec County. "I, for one, am going to see if we can do that, (and) I've talked to other people who feel the same way."

The close race between Romney and Paul and the high stakes for both men drew national attention to Maine's caucuses, which culminated Saturday with the announcement of Romney's victory. He had 39 percent of the nonbinding vote to Paul's 36 percent, according to the official count.

But the attention has since focused on counting errors, underreporting by some communities and a decision not to count voting that was postponed by snow in Washington County.

The party's state chairman said he is confident that a recount would not change the results. However, the problems are reinforcing suspicions about the caucus system that existed long before this year's voting was complete.

At Westbrook's caucus Feb. 5, for example, Ron Paul's supporters made a motion to require the chairwoman of the meeting to hold on to the ballots so they could inspect them later and verify the count.

A group of Romney supporters made a similar motion at a different caucus, said Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party.

Webster has taken the brunt of national criticism from Paul supporters and others for announcing results Saturday before all of the votes were counted. He and his wife have received death threats, he said, as have Republican officials in Washington County who decided to postpone Saturday's caucuses there because of a snowstorm. The caucus will be held this Saturday.

A typical turnout in Washington County – about 110 to 120 voters – would not be enough to change the official outcome. Romney had 194 more votes than Paul, according to the official count.

But things changed when the county was left out of the official results, said Senate President Kevin Raye, a Republican from the Washington County town of Perry.

"Everybody that I've talked to in Washington County is frustrated that our votes can't count," Raye said. "I predict that this turnout will be greater."

Raye said he personally urged Webster to recalculate the votes after this weekend's Washington County caucus. Even if the party doesn't add the numbers up, everybody else will, Raye said.

However, only state party officials now know the correct numbers to add up.

Some communities didn't report their numbers in time to be counted Saturday, while others did report but were not included because of clerical or computer problems in the rush to calculate the winner, Webster said.

Waterville's caucus results, for example, were reported but not counted in the state's total. Paul beat Romney 21-5 in Waterville, according to numbers provided Tuesday by the Kennebec County Republican Committee.

There also were a few cases of incorrect numbers being entered into the official breakdown, Webster said.

"I wish it was 100 percent trouble-free, but we don't have the staff or the money," he said.

Webster would not release corrected totals Tuesday. He said he does not want to issue new numbers until the state committee meets to discuss the issue March 10.

"My position is, it doesn't matter," Webster said. "(The outcome) didn't change at all."

(Continued on page 2)

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