Imagine it’s the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 7 — the day after Election 2012.

President Obama has squeaked past challenger Mitt Romney.

The Republicans have held on to their majority in the House of Representatives.

But in the oh-so-close battle for control of the U.S. Senate, it’s all come down to the great State of Maine.

Independent Senate candidate Angus King, after months of bombardment from GOP SuperPACS, is locked in a too-close-to-call standoff with Republican opponent Charlie Summers. High-priced lawyers of every political persuasion are flooding into the Portland International Jetport for an inevitable recount overseen by Maine’s top election official.

Also known as Secretary of State Charlie Summers.

Impossible, you say? Let’s go to Maine Revised Statutes, Title 21-A, Chapter 9, Subchapter 3, Article 3, which deals with “Post Election Procedure — Inspection and Recount.”

There, you’ll find 18 separate references to “Secretary of State” as the person who supervises the long and potentially contentious procedure for sorting through the aftermath of a squeaky-close election.

Including this catch-all: “The Secretary of State is authorized to adopt rules governing the conduct and procedures for a recount.”

Think about it, fellow voters. As things now stand, could Candidate Summers petition Secretary of State Summers for a recount this November? And as Candidate Summers waits anxiously for the results, could Secretary of State Summers be on the other side of the rope calling the shots?

It’s but one of several reasons why Summers’ decision to hang onto his $72,727-a-year day job while running to replace U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe is, shall we say, complicated.

For starters, there’s the only-24-hours-in-a-day factor, which prompted also-ran Bill Schneider to announce last month that if he won last week’s Republican Senate primary, he’d immediately resign as Maine’s attorney general.

“It simply will not be possible to give my constitutional office the attention it needs while running a winning, statewide campaign for the United States Senate,” Schneider explained at the time.

Summers, on the other hand, now maintains he can do both — in addition to having accrued an estimated five weeks vacation time, he said in an interview Friday, he also works a lot on weekends.

A case in point: On Saturday, Secretary of State Summers (not to be confused with Candidate Summers) spoke at the American Legion’s annual statewide convention in Bangor.

“The fact is I’ll go there and I won’t discuss any campaign or political issues,” Summers explained the day before the event. “I’ll talk about the issues I’ve worked on as secretary of state.”

Good luck with that, Mr. Secretary/Candidate.

Although, to be fair, this is not the first time a Maine secretary of state has moonlighted as a major candidate: Ken Curtis occupied the secretary’s office when he ran successfully for governor in 1966, as did Mark Gartley when he unsuccessfully challenged Snowe for the 2nd District seat in 1978.

But that was then — and this is now.

As Summers put it in a fundraising appeal sent out to supporters this weekend, “We’re in the process of preparing the war machine: setting up offices, expanding our volunteer operation, and putting together the best campaign team in Maine.”

All of that while simultaneously presiding over a department with a $36 million annual budget, three distinct bureaus and 414 employees?

Beyond his weekly time sheet, we have Secretary of State Summers’ control over the same ballot on which Candidate Summers will appear.

Consider the eyebrows raised last week when Secretary of State Summers released the wording for this fall’s same-sex marriage referendum. His proposed question — “Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?” — troubled same-sex marriage proponents because it fails to mention that churches would be exempted from the law.

Since Candidate Summers is already on record as opposing same-sex marriage, some wondered if this was less about ballot clarity and more about opening the door to unfounded claims that same-sex marriage will somehow threaten religious freedom.

Replied Secretary of State Summers, who must decide the final wording in late July after a 30-day public comment period, “There’s passion on both sides of this issue, but I do believe the most fair thing to do is put something (on the ballot) that’s very clear and concise and leaves no question in anyone’s mind.”

Again, Mr. Secretary/Candidate, good luck with that.

But of all the potential potholes on Summers’ campaign trail, none looms quite so large as the possibility, however remote, that Secretary of State Summers could find himself responsible for Candidate Summers’ ballot recount.

Now you’d think there would be a law specifically banning such a thing — and there almost is.

Off in another corner of Maine’s election statutes, common-sense restrictions are placed on who may serve as an “election official,” defined in the law as a local “warden, ward clerk, deputy warden or election clerk.”

Those declared ineligible to serve as election officials include “a candidate … in the electoral division from which the candidate seeks election.”

Translation: It’s illegal for a candidate to work on the front lines of an election. But it’s not illegal for a candidate to oversee the whole electoral ball of wax and, if necessary, supervise the resolution of his own post-election dispute?

Maybe, in fact, it is: Under yet another state law, an executive employee (which includes the secretary of state) is guilty of a civil violation if he “substantially participates in his official capacity in any proceeding” in which he has “a direct and substantial financial interest.” Such an interest, we can only assume, would include a U.S. senator’s paycheck.

So what will Secretary of State Summers do if Candidate Summers (or Candidate King, for that matter) comes knocking on Nov. 7?

“(Deputy Secretary of State) Julie (Flynn) is in charge of the Bureau of Corporations and Elections,” Summers noted. “Ultimately, she’ll give what her findings are. And if there were some kind of problem, then obviously I would consult with her, I would consult with the Attorney General’s Office and make a correct decision.”

So there we have it. In the heat of the national spotlight, long after he could have quietly stepped aside and gone about the business of campaigning, we’ll all just have to trust that Summers will make the “correct decision.”

One last time, Mr. Secretary/Candidate, good luck with that.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]


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