FALMOUTH — A recount of ballots in the state Senate District 25 election has reversed the result, making Republican Cathy Manchester of Gray the apparent winner.
Falmouth Democrat Cathy Breen, who initially seemed to have won by a narrow margin, declined to concede and is disputing the recount conducted Tuesday in Augusta.
According to the secretary of state’s office, Manchester won 10,927 to 10,916 – an 11-vote margin. Unofficial results following the Nov. 4 election had Breen ahead by 32 votes, 10,930 to 10,898. Manchester initially said she would not seek a recount following Election Day, but changed her mind after hearing from voters and staff.
The recount gives Republicans a potentially unexpected seat in the Senate and a 21-seat majority they haven’t enjoyed since 1977.
The recounted tally is so close that the outcome of the election will be examined by a committee appointed by presumptive Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and ultimately voted on by the full Senate, according to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.
Dunlap said that because nine ballots are in dispute and Breen hasn’t accepted the results, the matter will be sent to the Senate, where an elections committee will be appointed by Thibodeau.
According to Dunlap, Breen will be provisionally seated until the Senate makes a final decision. He said the Senate committee could opt to do anything from seating Breen or Manchester — likely Manchester, given the balance of power and the recount results — to ordering a full recount.
“The world is the oyster of the elections committee in the Senate,” Dunlap said Tuesday night. “They can go through everything to make sure there’s a full determination of the election.”
Dunlap said a major swing in the recount happened when a bundle of 25 ballots from Long Island that were not counted on election night were discovered. Twenty-one of those votes went to Manchester. Dunlap said the net effect of the recount found Manchester up by 11 votes with nine disputed ballots and seven other ballots that can’t be accounted for.
Breen said she has not yet given up on her chances.
“It’s been a very close election, and now there’s a recount with missing ballots and disputed ballots and uncounted ballots that have suddenly appeared,” she said. “I’m requesting that the results be officially reviewed. This has been a real roller-coaster, but I think it’s really important for the integrity of the process to be validated.”
If upheld, the recount would give Senate Republicans a 21-14 majority for the next two years. For the past two years, Democrats have held the majority 19-15, with one independent. That independent, Richard Woodbury, chose not to seek re-election, setting up the contest between Breen and Manchester.
“I would like to thank my opponent, Cathy Breen, for her service to the community and for running a spirited campaign,” Manchester said in a written statement. “I am eager to get to work in the Maine Senate to represent all of the people in the district, whether they are Democrats, Republicans or independents. Maine has very serious challenges ahead on creating jobs, lowering energy costs, reforming welfare and other issues.”
Thibodeau, who survived a recount for his own seat last week, said the District 25 recount at the Public Safety Building in Augusta on Tuesday “was conducted with strict, bipartisan oversight, and all Maine state statutes were followed.”
Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage said Tuesday that a “great campaign” run by Manchester has paid off.
“The party is honored and humbled that the voters trusted us to represent that region,” said Savage. “This is why it’s important to count every vote and do everything carefully to make sure all the votes are counted. Nobody takes anything for granted.”
Manchester is a real estate broker who was Maine’s first woman police chief, in the town of Poland. She served a one-year term on the Gray Town Council from 2009 to 2010 and until recently raced stock cars in local circuits.
Breen is a former Falmouth town councilor who cruised to the Democratic nomination in the June 10 primary over marketing executive and former Yarmouth Town Councilor Steve Woods.
District 25 includes Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth and part of Westbrook.
Colin Ellis of The Forecaster contributed to this report.