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Pot Legalization, Tax Increase Referendums Will Be Recounted

Opponents of two ballot measures have made it official: they’ll be asking for recounts.

Both the opponents of Question 1, which allows for the taxation and regulation of recreational marijuana, and Question 2, which would raise taxes to provide more funding for local schools, have submitted the required number of petitions to begin the process.

The winning margins separating the yes side from the no side in both questions are small, less than one percent, and state law says that is close enough to formally request a recount. The law also requires the state to pay for the cost of the recount.

Newell Augur, an attorney for the group that opposed passage of the marijuana referendum, says it’s important for Mainers to know for sure that the results of the election are accurate.

“We had more than two thirds of the communities in the state of Maine rejected this proposal. And but for my hometown of Portland, this measure would have lost by more than 1.5 percent,” he says.

And David Clough, Maine director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, says the tax increase in Question 2 will have a big effect on his organization’s members, who often file their small-business income through the personal income tax.

“There are a lot of opportunities for mistakes to be made, very inadvertent mistakes. We think that it’s such a significant issue and the vote was so close, we would like to know what the verified count is on the issue,” he says.

Both Auger and Clough say they had no problem getting well over the one hundred petition signature needed to trigger the recount process. Meanwhile, supporters of both Question 1 and Question 2 say they are confident their unofficial wins will be validated by the recount.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap says a statewide recount is time consuming and expensive. He estimates counting nearly 770,000 ballots that were cast in each referendum will take six weeks and cost about $500,000.

Dunlap says it’s not just his office that is involved in the process.

“They have to be retrieved from the 503 towns and the unorganized territories that might have polling places,” he says. “State police have to do that, so they have to work out their logistics as well.”

State law requires state troopers to pick up the ballots in their sealed boxes and transport them to Augusta, where they have to be kept in a secure facility.

Dunlap says based on past experience, recounting every ballot by hand means only about 25,000 votes can be counted in a day. He says his staff oversees the public process where occasionally errors are uncovered.

“You have a number of towns or a town that doesn’t have a tabulation machine and they are doing everything by hand, late at night and somebody transposes 17 to 71. And so the recount reveals that and changes the outcome of the election,” he says.

Dunlap says in a legislative race, the margin can often be a few dozen votes, so transposing a number on a tally sheet can, and has, changed election results. He says it will take many such mistakes to shift the thousands of votes in the two referendum recounts.

Because of the upcoming holidays it could be the new year before the two statewide recounts are completed.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.