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On these two machines, based on the same lubuntu version, but with a different history of package installation and removal, I get two different responses to the command.

sudo apt-get install --dry-run network-manager

One outputs:

network-manager is already the newest version (1.10.6-2ubuntu1.2)

The other outputs:

network-manager is already the newest version (1.10.14-0ubuntu2)

Output to the next commands is identical:

lsb_release -a
No LSB modules are available.
Distributor ID: Ubuntu
Description:    Ubuntu 18.04.3 LTS
Release:        18.04
Codename:       bionic
uname -a
Linux (machine-name) 4.15.0.74-generic #84-Ubuntu SMP Thu Dec 19 08:06:00 UTC 2019 i686 i686 i686 GNU/Linux

How can they get a different candidate? Is this based on the set of currently installed packages and can the dependencies be viewed?

As requested in the comments by user535733, the output of command :

apt-cache policy network-manager
network-manager:
  Installed: 1.10.14-0ubuntu2
  Candidate: 1.10.14-0ubuntu2
  Version table:
 *** 1.10.14-0ubuntu2 100
        100 /var/lib/dpkg/status
     1.10.6-2ubuntu1.2 500
        500 http://be.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu bionic-updates/main i386 Packages
     1.10.6-2ubuntu1.1 500
        500 http://security.ubuntu.com/ubuntu bionic-security/main i386 Packages
     1.10.6-2ubuntu1 500
        500 http://be.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu bionic/main i386 Packages
  • 2
    The simple answer is the one that output 1.10.14 is NOT ubuntu and therefore has different repositories. There is NO version of Ubuntu that has 1.10.14 in its current versions. Either that or you've got some extra repositories installed that have it as 'backports'. Or, you're on an EOL Release – Thomas Ward Jan 6 at 21:05
  • 3
    Please run apt-cache policy network-manager on the machine with 1.10.14.-0ubuntu2 – user535733 Jan 6 at 21:05
  • FYI: packages.ubuntu.com/… shows what you should see; and I agree with above two comments (downstream can re-package a ubuntu package using higher numbers so it'll be used giving their distro's name on screen instead of Ubuntu - apt-cache policy will reveal; since cosmic (18.10) is EOL it's package no longer appears in provided link) – guiverc Jan 7 at 0:28
  • cosmic was 1.12.4-1ubuntu1.2 – guiverc Jan 7 at 0:35
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The network-manager from one System seems to come from bionic-proposed. This packages source is no longer integrated on your system. (but this is not a suggest to integrate it again)

network-manager:
  Installed: 1.10.14-0ubuntu2
  Candidate: 1.10.14-0ubuntu2
  Version table:
 *** 1.10.14-0ubuntu2 100
        100 /var/lib/dpkg/status

Apt compares the packages versions from your system with available one. If the installed version is greater then the available one in your sources, apt will nothing do.

1.10.6-2ubuntu1.2 500
        500 http://be.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu bionic-updates/main i386 Packages
     1.10.6-2ubuntu1.1 500
        500 http://security.ubuntu.com/ubuntu bionic-security/main i386 Packages
     1.10.6-2ubuntu1 500
        500 http://be.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu bionic/main i386 Packages

But you can tell apt which version you want.

sudo apt install --reinstall network-manager=1.10.6-2ubuntu1.2

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