The Maine Secretary of State’s Office will soon undertake a long and unprecedented process with the start of two statewide recounts of controversial referendum questions.

This will be the first time the state performs simultaneous recounts on such a large scale, and that troubles one of the groups that requested a recount. By next week, recounts are expected to begin on referendums that legalized marijuana and imposed a tax surcharge on high earners to fund education.

“We have very serious concerns about combining two questions into one recount,” said David Clough, Maine state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, which opposed Question 2, the tax surcharge referendum, and gathered the recount signatures. “There’s no precedent for this.”

But Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who will oversee the process, said combining the two recounts is the best way to keep the ballots secure and minimize how much they are handled during the recount process. His office has asked the yes and no sides from each campaign to work together on counting teams so ballots are reviewed first for Question 1, then immediately after that for Question 2.

“I don’t think the methods we have employed to conduct the recount with integrity are impeached in any way by combining this and have teams counting for two questions,” Dunlap said.

The Secretary of State’s Office was still working Monday to finalize the logistics of the recounts and had not announced a start date.


The recounts could take a month or longer to complete and, if they go on that long, could cost up to $500,000, largely for Maine State Police to pick up padlocked and sealed ballot boxes from 503 individual towns and deliver them to Augusta, according to state officials. State police estimate it costs about $70,000 to collect ballots from 100 towns. Dunlap said there are additional costs to his office, including overtime for employees who are being pulled away from their regular work.

Question 1, which appears to have passed by a slim margin, legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Opponents requested the recount after unofficial results showed the question passed by a margin of less than 1 percent. The marijuana question passed by 4,073 votes (381,692 to 377,619), according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Opponents of Question 2, which imposes an income tax surcharge on high earners, requested a recount after the initiative appeared to have passed by a margin of 9,536 votes, or just over 1 percent. An unofficial tally from the Secretary of State’s Office shows 383,449 votes in favor of Question 2 and 373,913 opposed.

Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the office has spent the last week and a half talking to the yes and no campaigns for both questions and coordinating the logistics of the recount with state staff and police. During the recount, counting teams – comprising volunteer counters and a staff member from the Secretary of State’s Office – will review bundles of 50 ballots at a time. This process will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday until the process is complete.

Maine has never had a statewide recount that included a recount of every ballot, because the requesting group dropped it after a partial review. In 2010, opponents of the Oxford Casino referendum stopped a recount after a review of about 25 percent of ballots showed no significant change in results.

“I don’t know how far this is going to go,” Dunlap said. “The appellants for the apparent losing sides can go the distance. They can count all 503 towns if they want.”


Newell Auger, attorney for the No on 1 campaign, said the campaign has arranged for volunteers to help with the “time-intensive, painstaking and sometimes boring” recount process. He said the campaign will monitor the recount and continually evaluate how long to continue if there are no significant shifts in votes.

“We’re not going to waste the secretary of state’s time and resources if we arrive at a point before all the ballots are counted where we don’t see the numbers changing. If the margin narrows, that behooves a continued examination,” he said. “The margin now is so narrow that it requires an extra careful review, especially considering the significant change to our public policy.”

David Boyer, manager of the Yes on 1 campaign, said the campaign has lined up about 10 counters to participate in the recount, along with several people to collect data and the campaign attorney to watch the process.

“It there isn’t any real change in one direction or the other after counting 100,000 votes, we would really hope the other side would concede,” he said. “We don’t see any need to continue to waste taxpayer dollars after counting a significant portion of the ballots.”

Clough, with the No on 2 campaign, said the campaign will be in touch with Dunlap’s office about its concerns and is “taking it one step at a time” as it decides how to handle the request that the recounts be done simultaneously.

“This is totally unprecedented,” he said. “It’s vitally important we get it right this time.”

Dunlap said the recounts are unlikely to change the outcomes of the Nov. 8 votes because, historically, Maine’s elections have been accurate. For the Question 2 results to change, about 16 ballots in every town would have to flip to no, he said. For Question 1, that number would be around eight.

The recounts may serve to provide closure to the campaigns, Dunlap said.

“When you’ve come that close, you want to know the voice you heard on election night was actually the voice of the voter,” he said. “The value of the recount is that people can see the ballots for themselves and they can see the results for themselves and there can be peace knowing the outcome was truly the outcome.”

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