By Skip Greenlaw
One item on my bucket list is to count election ballots. Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor posted that she had lost an election for Hancock County judge of probate by 57 votes out of 28,972 votes. Lynne asked the Bureau of Elections for a recount, and I offered to be a counter for her.
The recount took place in Augusta at the offices of the Bureau of Elections in Williams Pavilion on the Riverview campus on Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 28 and 29, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with an hour out for lunch. I attended the recount on Thursday.
During Wednesday’s recount, Lynne had gained approximately 25 votes. The event took place in a rather small room given the number of people involved in the recount. There were six teams of counters, a person supporting Lynne (me) and Joanne Eaton of Northeast Harbor representing Lynne’s opponent, William B. Blasidell IV of Ellsworth, and a member of the Bureau of Elections, Ann Broucher, sitting opposite Joanne and me supervising the recount.
Members of the Bureau of Elections staff brought ballots to us in a plastic box. Our initial job was to separate the office ballots from the referendum ballots. Then we had to double check the referendum ballots to make sure that there were no office ballots accidently separated with the referendum ballots. Once that was completed the referendum ballots were removed by a member of the staff.
Joanne and I would sort the pile of office ballots by removing each ballot that had voted for the candidate we were recounting for. Joanne counted the ballots for Bill, and I counted the ballots for Lynne while the other was closely supervising the count, all the time under the supervision of Ann of the Bureau of Elections staff. When we counted 50 ballots, Ann would put a rubber band around them and when there were five groups of 50, another rubber band was placed around them and removed by the staff. This was the procedure, which took place all day long.
Julie Flynn, longtime Bureau of Elections director, was present and managing the entire recount. Both candidates were also present. As recounts were tabulated, Julie would brief both Bill and Lynne. The entire operation was accomplished without a single partisan comment. One had the feeling that everyone understood that our sole purpose was to ensure that the will of the voting public was accomplished. The staff was professional, kind and thoughtful; there were many “pleases” and just as many “thank yous.” Julie went out of her way to answer questions that anyone had. The entire effort was flawless and accomplished the intended goal, which was to verify that the results of the election were accurate. In the end, Lynne gained 32 votes, but still lost the election by 25 votes. When Julie announced the result, there was no disagreement, and in fact Lynne initiated a round of applause of appreciation for the enormous effort that had been displayed by Bureau of Elections staff and counters.
When all the ballots were refiled in the appropriate boxes, bureau staff relocked pad locks and anti-tampering devices on each and every box while a member of the public recorded the numbers on the locks so that the integrity of the ballots was protected until the next recount for the Golden/Poliquin contest, which was scheduled for Monday, Dec. 3, 2018.
I was thrilled with the entire day’s efforts. This recount was done in a professional, uncontentious manner, void of any partisan conflict or comment. Julie said that some states do not count absentee ballots or ballots from our service people overseas, but Maine law requires that every ballot be counted as long as it was received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Julie gave great credit to the “mama bear” election clerks in each city and town, who were equally professional and took great care to ensure integrity of the voting process.
Given what we have read and hear about the efforts by other states legislatures to make it as difficult as possible to vote, I am so proud of our Maine Legislature, which has enacted election laws to encourage voting and try to make it easy and convenient for people to vote. I am equally proud of the Julie Flynn and her staff for their professionalism and commitment to honoring the integrity of each citizen’s vote. We have lots to be grateful for in the state of Maine when it involves elections and recount practices. As Maine goes, so should the rest of the states.
Skip Greenlaw is a former state representative who lives in Stonington.