Judge Oks Remedy For Botched Ballots


When candidate names were not rotated on the primary election ballot as mandated by state law, town attorneys hustled to remedy the mistake.

Tom Irvine, an attorney who specializes in election law, was retained by the town and a court date set for a judge to review the proposed course of action -- sending registered voters a revised ballot.

Wednesday, the remediation strategy was heard by Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill.

"We are going to ask the court to bless what we are planning to do," Carpenter said.

Irvine described the method the town used to assign the rotations to the districts.

"Names of the candidates were drawn out of a hat," Irvine said, pointing to a top hat. "Many people were present to observe this process."

"Do you feel this satisfies the statutory requirement of a rotation?" Cahill said. "Does this method comply with being as close as possible for an even rotation?"

"This is as good a fix as possible," Irvine said.

No one was present at the hearing to contest the "fix" and according to Irvine, no one had notified town officials that they wanted to intervene.

Cahill approved the petition filed by the town.

"Fortunately, we don't have to fix anything after the fact -- which is everybody's nightmare," Cahill said.

The remediation will now be sent to the Department of Justice for pre-clearance under Federal Civil Rights Law, Irvine said.

"It should not delay the election," Irvine said. "They have pledged to expedite things."

As of Wednesday, the town had received 1,381 ballots. The replacement ballots will have a blue stripe, he said.

People may vote twice if they have already sent in their ballot, or their first ballot will be counted. If one voter has returned two ballots, the replacement ballot will be counted, Irvine said.

How this happened

According to town manager Fred Carpenter, the printing company the town contracts with for the ballots, was unaware of the rotation issue. The ballots were printed and mailed out by the company.

"We did not tell him to rotate the names because we thought it was common knowledge that you have to rotate them," Carpenter said. "It was a comedy of errors, I suppose."

Feb. 10, Deputy town attorney Tim Wright realized what had happened and quick action had to be taken to preserve the integrity of the election.

"It wasn't a pleasant day when we discovered this," Carpenter said. "But we came up with a solution, got a hold of the right people and the council was able to bless it last Thursday. It turned out OK."

Can it be contested?

"Anyone can still contest an election, but this action will safeguard us to a certain extent on this particular issue," Carpenter said.

"You always have the ability to contest an election, but on this particular point it could still be done -- but this is a precaution."

Town Attorney Sam Streichman said that because of the steps the town is taking, challenging the election based on name rotation would be much harder.

"It will take away the reason for someone to contest the election."

The cost of the blunder

In September, the town had its first all-mail ballot election and according to town clerk Silvia Smith, voter turnout increased compared to prior special elections. The council later voted to continue the all-mail election process.

Following the September election, Smith said she believed the new voting system would be cost-effective by the March primary.

"We didn't save money during this election because of the extra mailings, but we know of at least 1,500 names that will drop off the mailing list for the primary," Smith said. "By then, the all-mail balloting should be cost-effective."

This may not be the case due to the mishap. The town sent out 6,898 ballots and now must foot the bill for the printing and mailing of another round of ballots, a lengthy legal notice detailing the issue, and the services of an outside attorney.

"Obviously, this election won't be cost-effective," Carpenter said. "That's what we have a contingency fund for -- to pay for these kind of situations."

Carpenter estimates the error will cost the town about $5,000.

"We won't know until all the damage has been done," Carpenter said. "There's probably over $1,000 worth of attorney's fees already, but if we didn't correct it, it could end up costing a lot more."

Carpenter said if nothing was done, there could be grounds to overturn the election and the town would be forced to conduct another one.

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