Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap will not investigate concerns raised by the Maine Republican Party that voters in as many as four towns believe they were given the wrong ballots when they voted in November.

Kristen Muszynski, the spokeswoman for Dunlap, a Democrat, said Friday that his office has seen no evidence to support claims that voters in the 1st Congressional District were given ballots for the 2nd Congressional District race.

Muszynski questioned whether a Republican Party news release with signed affidavits by 17 midcoast voters was an attempt to use the media “to sow unfounded doubt amongst voters, which undermines the entire electoral process.”

Maine’s 2nd District election, the first congressional race in the nation to be decided by ranked-choice voting, already is under considerable scrutiny.

Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin has questioned the legality and integrity of the ranked-choice system, and requested a recount after a final tabulation of the ballots showed him trailing Democrat Jared Golden by 3,509 votes. Poliquin also is challenging the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in court.

On Friday, Jason Savage, the Republican party’s executive director, said the party isn’t asking for an investigation, but that the midcoast voters who filed the sworn statements want answers. He called for Dunlap to unseal ballot boxes in the towns in question so a review of ballots could determine if the voters’ recollection of what they saw on Election Day is accurate.

“Our understanding is that several of the voters have requested an investigation already,” Savage said in an email. “Realistically, what they want is for the boxes to be opened with witnesses present to examine the ballots. It’s not like anyone is calling to impanel a grand jury here, just look into this so people can have answers.”

The party released a sheaf of sworn statements Thursday from 17 voters – several of them related – in Boothbay Harbor, Boothbay, Edgecomb and Trevett, all of which are in Maine’s 1st Congressional District. The voters say they believe they turned in ballots listing the state’s 2nd Congressional District race, which pitted Poliquin against three challengers: Golden and independents Tiffany Bond and William Hoar.

REASONS FOR DOUBT

But Muszynski has said that two of the four towns in question used tabulation machines that would have rejected any ballots that were not approved for that municipality. She said the two other towns hand count their ballots, and the clerks in those towns did not see any ballots from the 2nd Congressional District.

“To reiterate, ballots from out of district cannot be counted, even in the very rare instance that a voter was mistakenly issued such a ballot, and we have no evidence that any such ballots were actually issued, so our office is not authorizing a review of the ballots,” Muszynski said.

She said it is likely that the voters in question, “are mis-remembering” their ballots and may have been influenced by the abundance of political advertising that aired statewide around the 2nd District Congressional race.

Charles House of Boothbay, one of the voters who signed a sworn statement that he got a 2nd District ballot, said Friday he’s not trying to cast any doubt on the election. House, a Republican, said other members of his family also believe they had a 2nd District ballot, and he’s mostly interested in finding out the truth.

He was disappointed that Dunlap wouldn’t authorize an inspection of the ballots in Boothbay.

“It would probably only take an hour to open up the box and look through them, just to make sure, just to find out for sure,” House said.

Pamela Mancuso of Boothbay said Friday that she collected some of the affidavits from area voters and turned them over to the Republican Party and to “Poliquin’s people.” Mancuso said her ballot was correct and did not list Poliquin, but she believes those who say theirs did.

“I do believe them because I know the people and I know they are sincere and credible people,” Mancuso said.

SERIES OF REPUBLICAN CLAIMS

Savage’s announcement Thursday calling attention to voters who said they cast an improper ballot is the latest in a series of efforts by the Republican Party or its elected officials to cast doubts on the state’s election systems and voting practices.

Starting in 2011, former Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster and later Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers pushed for a repeal of Maine’s same-day voter registration law, which had been in place for nearly 40 years.

Webster claimed the law was allowing Democrats to steal elections by registering college students in droves and busing them to the polls on Election Day so they could tip the scales. He never produced any evidence.

The repeal effort was passed by the Legislature, which was then controlled by Republicans, and signed into law by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. A few months later, voters overturned the repeal at the ballot box, with supporters pointing to same-day registration as one of the reasons Maine has one of the nation’s highest rates of voter turnout.

LePage also has planted doubts about Maine’s voting system – even after winning statewide election twice.

In 2016, he pushed for a law requiring photo identification to vote, telling a radio talk show host that he wasn’t confident the state had conducted a “clean election.” The comment echoed those of President Trump, who has claimed that the 2016 presidential elections were “rigged.”

After the 2016 balloting, LePage again took aim at the state’s election system, saying that Dunlap, the secretary of state, could not “guarantee with 100 percent certainty that no noncitizens voted in the election. He cannot guarantee that no college students voted both in Maine and their home state. He cannot guarantee someone did not vote in both the town they previously lived in and the town they now reside in.”

ASSURANCES OF SECURITY

Dunlap has repeatedly rebuffed Republican charges of voter fraud and other allegations of polling place chicanery, assuring Mainers their voting system is secure and challenging LePage or others to produce evidence of fraud.

“If Gov. LePage or any other party has evidence of attempts at voter fraud or other malfeasance related to the election, we encourage them to come forward with that information so those instances can be investigated,” Dunlap said at one point. “The citizens of Maine can be fully confident that their votes are counted accurately and the results reflect the will of the voters.”

Muszynski, Dunlap’s spokeswoman, noted that voters can have trouble recalling the details of their ballots. She said Dunlap’s office was contacted after the Nov. 6 election by one couple who voted absentee and were certain that they cast ranked-choice ballots for governor – even though ranked choice was not used in that race.

“They had voted early by absentee, so the clerk was able to show them their own ballots to prove to them that the race was, in fact, a plurality race,” Muszynski said.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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