Recount Reverses One-Vote Win For Charter To 10-Vote Loss
By: Laura M. Reckford
The one-vote win of the new town charter on November 3 turned into a 10-vote loss this week during a hand recount on Tuesday of the 5,391 ballots cast in the November 3 election.
Barnstable Town Clerk Linda Hutchenrider said she believes the change had to do with only about five ballots that were counted incorrectly by the town’s election machines as Yes votes when they were actually No votes.
Ms. Hutchenrider said the hand recount discovered ballots in which people had used check marks, Xs, or even arrows to mark their ballots as No votes, but that those marks had also veered into the Yes spot as well.
“If there was a problem with the way it was marked, we looked for the intent of the voter,” Ms. Hutchenrider said.
*Bringing Pens From Home*
Ms. Hutchenrider also pointed out that some people use pencils or ballpoint pens brought from home to vote instead of using the markers provided. Neither of those implements makes marks that are guaranteed to be counted by the voting machines, she said.
Showing ballots that had been marked incorrectly but were clearly No votes, Ms. Hutchenrider presented one in which the voter had written a check mark that had strayed into the ballot margin. Any ballot with marks in the margin may not be counted by the machines, she said.
To perform the recount, Ms. Hutchenrider organized about 20 people to count the ballots on Tuesday. Most were election workers who regularly supervise the town’s polls. Besides Ms. Hutchenrider and Yarmouth Town Clerk Jane E. Hibbert, who both oversaw the recount, the town’s three registrars made determinations when there were questions about ballots. It took the group about two and a half hours to complete the recount, which occurred in the hearing room in Barnstable Town Hall.
On Wednesday, Ms. Hutchenrider contacted the company, LHS, which manufactures the AccuVote system machines and the ballots to discuss the results of the recount. She said the company representative told her that the machines are accurate, but that human error by voters can frequently be the cause of miscounts.
*Back Before Voters*
On Wednesday, the day after the recount, Richard Clark, the chairman of the Barnstable Charter Commission that put together the new charter document in an 18-month process, drew papers to put the question back before voters at the earliest opportunity, which is 2011.
Mr. Clark and others questioned the accuracy of a hand count, though they took pains to say that they did not believe there was any ill intent on the part of those involved with the recount. While he was out of town and unable to attend the recount, Mr. Clark said the fact that “two votes appeared in West Barnstable” was “a disturbing thing to me.”
He also pointed to the fact that the number of blank votes changed, “which means a blank vote got recorded as a Yes.”
“So the 10-vote swing came from ballots that originally were ‘Yeses’ and now are ‘Noes’ and that occurred in five precincts out of 13. That tells me that our machines made a mistake in 40 percent of the precincts,” Mr. Clark said.
After pulling papers to put the question back on the ballot in 2011, Mr. Clark said he had talked to a number of people “who expressed dismay and uncomfortableness” about the recount.
*New Charter Commission*
Meanwhile, another effort to put together a brand new charter commission may be in the works. Gary Lopez Sr. of Centerville, who said he was involved in the last effort for a new charter with a mayoral form of government, said he and others plan to circulate petitions to again begin the 18-month process of a Constitutional Convention to rewrite the charter. If they are successful in gathering signatures, that question would also go before voters in 2011.
Members of the town council have also said they plan to look at some of the changes that were proposed in the new charter and try to get them passed by the town council and then put the changes before the voters.
To get the charter back on the ballot in 2011, Mr. Clark and other supporters of the new charter document need to gather 3,000 signatures, but they have plenty of time, almost two years, to do so.
Ms. Hutchenrider said she agreed with Mr. Clark that she believes a machine count is more accurate than a hand count. “He’s a believer as I am, in the machines,” Ms. Hutchenrider said.
As to whether a hand recount is more prone to errors than a machine count, Ms. Hutchenrider said, “Definitely, in my mind.” That is why, she said, she had those doing the recount count the ballots twice.
*Petitioner Watches Recount*
The recount was requested by Jeffrey Wilkinson of Centerville, who had 10 days to gather 130 signatures in support of the effort. Mr. Wilkinson, who said he votes in every election and has never before gotten involved in town government, served as one of the “observers” on the recount. He said he was pleased with what he saw.
“What I saw today is every vote was counted properly,” he said after the recount. He said that he did see some instances in which one of the counters would say a Yes when he meant a No or vice versa, but the mistake was quickly corrected.
Mr. Wilkinson said that once the counting was complete, the entire room became silent as Ms. Hutchenrider did the math to come up with the final tally.
“It was like we were in a courtroom waiting for a verdict,” he said. “There was a hush. No one was talking.”
He said that when Ms. Hutchenrider made the announcement, there were a couple of claps. “I was happy it was overturned,” he said, declining to say what he did not like about the new charter that was proposed.
Mr. Wilkinson said he brings his own pen to vote and was surprised that Ms. Hutchenrider said that some ballpoint pens make marks that are not counted by the voting machines.
Among the other observers of the recount was Al Baker of Marstons Mills. After the recount, Mr. Baker said that as someone who was against passage of the new charter, he was glad about the outcome.
Mr. Baker said he was one of the people who originated the original petition to have a charter commission for the purpose of changing the town government to have a mayor instead of a town manager. But the charter commission opted against that change. He said he called Ms. Hutchenrider and asked to be a counter. He said he felt the recount process went very well.
Besides Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Baker, the other observers on the No-vote side were Allen Goddard, William Cronin and Joan Connelly, according to the town clerk’s office.
J. Gregory Milne, a charter commission member and Barnstable town councilor, served as an observer on the Yes side. He said he was not happy with what he saw. He stressed that he does not believe there was any intentional wrongdoing by anyone involved, but he questioned the results.
“I’m blown away that on Election Day it passes and now it’s defeated by 10,” he said. “It seems Mickey Mouse to me. It doesn’t seem like ironclad democracy.”
He continued, “The amount of flawed aspects to these various voting methods are too great for a society that prides itself on being the oldest democracy in the world and the wealthiest nation on earth and we can’t even do elections in a solid way. I’m shattered and it has nothing to do with the outcomes. That’s immaterial.”
Pointing out that there have been many town elections over the years with “razor-thin” margins of victory, he said the town council should write a letter to federal election officials stating that it is unacceptable not to have an accurate voting system.
Like Mr. Wilkinson, Mr. Milne also observed that one of the counters “celebrated” when Ms. Hutchenrider read the results of the recount, and he said that was an example of inappropriate behavior at the recount. He said the tables should have been more spread out in the room, because counters were having trouble hearing each other. He also said there should have been more observers.
*Disappointed With Results*
Besides Mr. Milne, the other observers on the Yes vote side were Susan Rohrbach and Sheila Geiler, who both served on the charter commission.
Ms. Rohrbach said after the recount, “Obviously, I was disappointed with the results.” She said the aspect of the new charter that gave voters more of a say in town elections by electing more members of the council, “was really important to me.”
Ms. Rohrbach said she could see that everyone involved with the recount was “trying to do their best,” but noted counters having discrepancies in how many ballots had been counted or errors in the counting.
One of the safeguards Ms. Hutchenrider put in place was to have a second town clerk at the recount. She decided to do that after Mr. Milne pointed out that having Ms. Hutchenrider involved might be a conflict of interest because her position as town clerk was one of the things affected by the new charter.
The new charter would have had Ms. Hutchenrider, who was just reelected November 3, run again in two years.
Ms. Hutchenrider said Ms. Hibbert had offered to help with the recount even before Mr. Milne had questioned her running it.
*Changes To The Charter*
The biggest change of the new charter was designed to give each voter more power at the polls. It would have reduced the 13 member town council to 11 members and allowed each voter to elected a majority of the council. Another big change in the new charter was in the position of town council president, which would have had greater powers, including a seat on the Barnstable School Committee. The school committee would have expanded to seven seats in the new charter.
Recount Results For New Barnstable Charter Question
Overall Results For Recount (fF
Yes Votes: 2,574 (2,579)
No Votes: 2,584 (2,578)
Blanks: 233 (232)
Changes from November 3 Election
Precinct 1: plus one blank; minus one No
Precinct 2: minus two Yeses; plus two Nos
Precinct 10: minus one Yes; plus one No
Precinct 11: minus one Yes; plus 3 Nos; plus 2 overall votes
Precinct 13: minus one Yes; plus one No
Barnstable Town Clerk Linda Hutchenrider said she believes the 11 vote swing in the charter voter was due to two ballots that were not read by the voting machines because of an error in filling out the ballot or in feeding the ballot into the machine and four ballots that were misread by the machine because they were improperly marked by the voter.
In Precinct 11, West Barnstable, there were two additional ballots counted in the recount. Town Clerk Linda Hutchenrider believes those ballots were not originally counted because of a mis-feed in the voter machine or perhaps because the ballot was improperly marked. “The machine reads the ballot properly when it is marked properly,” she said. In the other eight precincts, nothing changed in the recount.
Having five or six problems out of 5,000 ballots, Ms. Hutchenrider said, is “a very, very small amount.” Ms. Hutchenrider said she has presided over about a dozen recounts over the years, including ones involving state and county races. But, she said, this is the first case she has seen in which the recount changed the outcome. This is also the first one where the difference was a matter of just one vote.
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