AUGUSTA – A legislative committee Wednesday completed its review of two disputed House elections and will make a recommendation that is expected to trim the Democrats’ majority over Republicans by one seat.
The House Elections Committee’s unanimous recommendation, which is likely to be adopted Thursday by the full House of Representatives, would give Democrats an 88-61 majority, rather than the 89-60 unofficial tally after Election Day. Two seats went to independents.
The change in overall numbers stems from a recount in the District 102 race in Standish between Democrat Michael Shaw and incumbent Republican Gary Moore. Shaw, who was provisionally seated after the November voting, withdrew Wednesday rather than request a special election.
Shaw said it was a tough decision to give up on the seat, “but I don’t want to put our community through a costly special election.”
Shaw’s decision won praise from House Speaker Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, who called it a “unique and honorable gesture” that will save local taxpayers money.
The recount that came under review by the Elections Committee showed more ballots were cast than the number of people recorded as having voted.
“We never looked at that as fraud,” said Rep. Stanley Gerzofsky, who chairs the Elections Committee. During the course of three hearings in which they heard from municipal officials, poll workers and others, the panelists learned that some ballots for the District 102 race were mistakenly given to voters who live in District 103, producing the discrepancy.
Gerzofsky said it appears that 15 voters may have been given the wrong ballot on Election Day. Because the margin between the two candidates was only six votes, “Nobody will ever know who won the election but God.”
In the District 7 race, between Democrat Patricia Sutherland of Chapman and former Republican Rep. John Churchill of Washburn, the opposite happened.
Sutherland’s Election Day win was confirmed after a recount increased her four-vote win by one vote. But the review also showed that more people had voted than the number of ballots cast, said Gerzofsky. The committee learned that the reason was that some of the envelopes from absentee voters included only municipal and not state-office ballots.
The Elections Committee is recommending that Sutherland be permanently seated.
Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said the panel did its work in a bipartisan fashion, with Republicans moving to seat Democrat Sutherland and Democrats moving to seat the GOP’s Moore. The committee is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
The Elections Committee’s unanimous recommendations virtually assure that its choices will be approved by the House, which ultimately seats its own members.
Democrats have a slim 18-17 majority in the Senate.