PORTLAND, Maine – The Republican Party dropped an appeal to the Maine Supreme Court on Tuesday, clearing the way for the evenly divided state Senate to decide a disputed election for its final seat.
The GOP withdrawal freed Gov. Angus King to certify election results showing Democrat Chris Hall as the apparent winner over Republican Leslie Fossel by nine votes.
But the battle isn't over: Republicans will make their case on 44 disputed ballots to the state Senate, which will decide which candidate will be seated, as stipulated in the Maine Constitution.
The Senate will take up the election after it is seated Dec. 4.
"I think the fat lady is singing," Hall said. "I'm just relieved that it's all over. It has been an unpleasant three weeks."
At stake is which party gets a majority in the 35-member Senate, currently split at 17 seats for each. A Hall victory would give Democrats considerable sway over the agenda, with control of the governor's mansion and both legislative houses for the first time since 1986.
King, an independent, is stepping down after two terms.
Republican leaders pledged to stand behind the ultimate winner, but only after the Senate reviewed the disputed ballots in a "fair and impartial way."
"It would be improper, and an affront to democracy, to seat a candidate without counting all of the ballots where voter intent can be determined," the GOP leaders said in a statement.
Mary Small, the Senate GOP leader, said she hoped the Senate would appoint an impartial entity -- possibly the high court -- to review the disputed ballots and make recommendations.
Among the disputed ballots were some declared void because voters used a pen instead of pencil. Others were rejected because voters circled or underlined the candidate's name, instead of filling in the line on the ballot.