Foes moving ahead with recount request for Maine pot legalization vote
A leader of the group opposed to marijuana legalization said Monday it will request a recount of votes in the statewide referendum that passed last week by a narrow margin.
Such a recount involving more than 757,000 ballots cast in communities across the state could take a month to conduct and cost the state $500,000, the Secretary of State’s Office said Monday.
Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities, which opposed Question 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot, is circulating petitions to collect the 100 signatures needed to request a recount. Scott Gagnon, campaign manager for the group, said the petitions will be turned in to the Secretary of State’s Office by the 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline.
The unofficial tally shows 381,060 votes in support of Question 1 and 376,658 opposed, a margin of 4,402 votes or less than 1 percent, according to unofficial results collected from communities across the state by the Associated Press and Portland Press Herald. The totals include about 4,000 absentee ballots received by the state from members of the military and Mainers living overseas.
Maine was one of four states that voted last week to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. That brings to nine the total number of states that have voted in favor of a legal recreational cannabis market.
In addition to a possible recount, Gov. Paul Lepage has said he might challenge the referendum results. LePage said after the election that he will ask President-elect Donald Trump if the Trump administration will enforce federal law against marijuana possession, before he decides whether to challenge the referendum vote.
The referendum proposal, if it stands, will make it legal for adults at least 21 years old to possess as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The law would take effect 40 days after the vote — or the week before Christmas. Marijuana stores and social clubs would likely not open for a year or so to give the state time to set up licensing and regulatory rules. Individual communities may also consider zoning rules for retail stores and social clubs, or ban them outright.
The narrow vote margin on election day does not trigger an automatic recount. But campaigns can initiate a recount with a formal requests.
If the margin of difference is less than 1.5 percentage points — as it is in the case of the marijuana vote — a recount is paid for entirely by the state. In cases where the margin is greater than 1.5 points, the party seeking the recount must pay between $500 and $5,000.
Two legislative candidates have so far requested recounts, the Secretary of State’s Office said Monday.
Keith Cornelio has requested a recount in House District 74, which includes part of Livermore and all of Livermore Falls and Jay. Cornelio, a Republican, finished 61 votes behind Christina Riley, a Democrat.
Benjamin Twitchell has requested a recount in House District 78, which includes Winslow and part of Benton. Twitchell, a Republican, finished 140 votes behind Catherine Nadeau, a Democrat.
Neither recound had been scheduled as of Monday afternoon. Legislative district recounts are much more common, and far less costly, than statewide recounts.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap estimated that a recount on the statewide referendum would cost his office and the Maine State Police about $500,000. Maine State Police troopers would have to travel to each of the state’s 503 municipalities to pick up the sealed ballot boxes to deliver to the Secretary of State’s Office for the manual recount. A Question 1 recount could take about four weeks to complete, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Gagnon, the campaign manager for No on 1, said the coalition has received emails, phone calls and social media messages from voters who oppose legalization.
“These Maine voters are encouraging the coalition to stand firm as the stakes are incredibly high for Maine’s youth and Maine’s medical marijuana program,” Gagnon said last week. “It is our duty to exercise all rights available to ensure that the final results are a fair and accurate representation of the will of all Mainers.”
David Boyer, campaign manager for Yes on 1, said the campaign sees a recount as a waste because the margin of votes now numbers in the thousands.
“The people of Maine have spoken and they have voted yes to make marijuana legal, as have millions of other Americans across the country,” he said. “Just as keeping marijuana illegal has been a waste of taxpayer dollars, we think this recount will be a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.”