AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The mystery of those extra state Senate ballots has apparently been solved: it turns out they never existed.
The District 25 Senate race between Democrat Cathy Breen and Republican Cathy Manchester was declared a victory for Breen election night, by an eventual 32-vote margin. But in a recount conducted by the Secretary of State's office, it appeared there were 21 additional votes from the town of Long Island, all for Manchester, that had not been counted on election night. Those votes helped swing the recount to Manchester.
And those 21 votes raised a lot of eyebrows, and more than a few questions. Long Island's voter list – the tally of people who actually went to the polls Election Day – showed 171 voters. But with the added 21 ballots, the total rose to 192. That prompted speculation by some Democrats about potential voter fraud.
However, Tuesday's inspection of the ballots showed there was no fraud, only a mistake at the recount. After opening all four locked containers with the Long Island ballots, the detective found 171 ballots, the same number as people on the voter list.
Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said that someone in the recount must have gotten confused, and counted a stack of 21 Manchester votes twice. That ended the mystery. Senators then counted all of the Long Island votes again and confirmed the count from election night, with Breen the winner by 40 votes.
That changed the final result for the race, and an emotional Manchester said the voters had spoken, and Breen was the winner.
"I couldn't be happier that the state police have been vindicated they didn't do anything wrong. The good people on Long Island didn't do anything wrong, that it was human error at the recount," Manchester said. "And [I am happy] to have a system in place where we can sit in a room together investigate the facts and come out and do what's right is absolutely amazing."
Breen praised the Senate committee for taking a "very thorough, very serious" look at the ballots and the process.
Flynn said that, in retrospect, she wishes they had counted the Long Island ballots once more during the recount, which would have avoided the problem. Flynn said she had never had a situation like this one in 26 years of election recounts.
Several legislators said they believe the review showed some problems in the process that need to be addressed.The full Senate will need to vote to seat Breen, which will apparently happen in early January.