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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is back on track after winning the Maine caucuses.
What the headlines haven't told you is that what happened in Maine is the messiest caucus Republicans have had so far, and it may not be over yet.
Maine, is not a major state during national primaries. Only 24 delegates come out of Maine to the national convention. But what happened there over the weekend does more than raise eyebrows. It is enough to make you question, was the caucus fixed?
Saturday night, February 11, the head of the Maine GOP, Charlie Webster, announced that Governor Mitt Romney won the Maine caucus by a slim margin.
Official totals read Romney barely winning the caucus by less than 200 votes.
The only problem, the governor was declared the winner with only 84 percent of precincts counted.
Two counties, Washington County and Hancock County had not yet held their caucuses. In Hancock, County Republicans had decided to hold their caucus this Saturday on February 18. In Washington County, the state GOP canceled the caucus because of snow concerns. Turns out, the area only got a light dusting.
The big problem here, Mr. Webster says even when those caucuses are held this Saturday, the votes won't count. I talked with him on the phone.
"February 11, that was election day. The rules said that was when you will have to vote by this date. If you are out of town that day, you don't get your vote counted. But the caucuses will be held. The state committee, our governing body will have to decide if we want to expand that." Mr. Webster told me by telephone.
You heard right. The head of the GOP in Maine says that caucuses will be held this weekend, and even though party officials cancelled the caucus in Washington county, they will not count the votes of those who turn out because they missed the February 11 deadline. And if the party decides to count those votes, they won't make that decision until the second week of March, after Super Tuesday.
That alone has caused a huge blowup across Maine. The State Senate President Kevin Raye says, "Our votes in Washington County must count just as much as votes cast anywhere else."
Still, Mr. Webster says it doesn't matter if the votes are counted because this is just a straw poll. Webster is correct that it is a straw poll and that the delegates are not bound to any candidate, meaning the delegates at the Republican National Convention can vote for whomever they choose.
But if you want to disregard the straw poll, don't hold one in the first place.
Aside from the state not wanting to include Washington county, there is another major issue from these Maine caucuses. Even though Governor Romney was already declared the "winner", the numbers the State GOP in Maine are reporting are incorrect, according to a caucus chairman.
Take for instance in Waldo county, where voters from 18 towns gathered for municipal caucuses in a countywide event. A total of 138 votes were cast. In the official Maine GOP tallies, however, the results from all but one of those communities were given as a series of zeros below the name of each candidate, as though no one had voted.
The town of Belfast was one of 10 towns that held a joint caucus on the same day. That caucus was held on February 4. I talked with Matt McDonald, a pastor of a small community church in Belfast, who was nominated as the chairman of the Belfast caucus. He says 22 people showed up and caucused on the 4th of February.
McDonald also says that the state instructed the chairman of the caucuses to not read any of the votes out loud and to instead send them directly to party officials in Augusta. As his first order of business, McDonald made a motion to have the votes read aloud. it passed unanimously.
"We caucused and the vote was, eight for Ron Paul, seven for Rick Santorum, five for Mitt Romney and there were two undecideds. We reported this publicly, we counted it publicly." Says McDonald.
The announcement was so public that McDonald tweeted the results on the night of the fourth. But on Monday of this week, hearing all the controversy surrounding the announcement of Governor Romney as the winner, McDonald checked the state party's website and saw that no results had been posted from the Belfast caucus.
"The lady on the line said that she had received our tallies and our votes but had not recorded them yet and said she Romney nine, Rick Santorum with five, Ron Paul with two. Those weren't the right numbers and Ii told her, ‘ma'am those aren't the right numbers' and she said but those are the numbers we have. I said there are 22 Republicans here in Belfast who would tell you different because we counted our votes publicly and in light of that her voice kinda changed and she said we will record this and ended the conversation." Says McDonald.
And that is just one of many very strange inconsistencies. Dozens of towns on the GOP site are listed as if no one voted, including in Waterville, Maine, home to 15,000 people. A count on the site, "As Maine Goes. com". indicates Congressman Ron Paul actually won the Maine caucuses over Governor Romney by 10 votes.
So what you need to know is that what is happening in Maine is nothing short of a disaster for the Republican Party there.
Is this just a case of jumping the gun, sheer incompetence or blatant fraud? You can make up your own mind on that, but unless the leadership in Maine publicly counts votes and ensures that every voter is heard, even though this is just a straw poll, the leadership may win the battle of keeping Governor Romney from having lost four contests in a row but well may lose the war of galvanizing that vote in the general election come November.
And that is Reality Check.
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