AUGUSTA, Maine — With only nine votes separating Democrats from Republicans in the struggle for control of the state Senate, Maine's outgoing independent governor is asking the state's highest court for advice.
Gov. Angus King asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Friday for guidance about what his options and obligations are in certifying a winner. But time is short: King faces a Tuesday deadline for summoning the new Legislature to convene early next month.
King said he believes it is unclear whether a governor must perform a merely ministerial function by signing off on election tallies forwarded to him by the secretary of state's office or should examine disputed ballots himself.
At issue is which political party will claim majority control of the 35-member state Senate. The new state House of Representatives will be held by the Democrats, and the incoming governor, U.S. Rep. John Elias Baldacci, will be Maine's first Democratic chief executive in 16 years.
At last count in the Senate District 16 review, Democratic Rep. Christopher Hall had nine votes more than Republican challenger Leslie Fossel, but 63 ballots remained in dispute and four were being challenged.
The other 34 Senate contests were evenly split between the parties at 17 each.
The governor also cited the election in House District 80, where Republican Stanley Moody led Democratic incumbent Elaine Fuller by one vote, with 10 votes in dispute.
Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said the court would respond "in due course," but added that no oral arguments before the court were anticipated.
King's letter to the justices asked in part whether a governor has independent authority to determine apparent election winners and whether a governor may certify anyone other than those tabulated as apparent winners by the secretary of state.
Senate Democratic leaders Beverly Daggett and Sharon Treat issued a statement Friday saying the best course would be for unresolved disputes to be put before the Legislature.
Meanwhile, Republican Senate leaders Mary Small and Paul Davis have called on Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky, a Democrat elected by the Legislature, to recuse himself and his office from certifying the disputed Senate race.
Republicans have argued that Gwadosky tainted himself by campaigning for Democrats.
Gwadosky responded in a letter saying that he did not have discretion under law to step out of the process.