Pam Rooney, District 4 Councilor candidate remains three votes ahead of incumbent Evan Ross after the counting of ballots that had not been counted on election night.
Twenty four people were present in the Town Room at Town Hall on Monday morning for the counting of 17 mail-in ballots that had been deposited in the drop box at Town Hall. Town Clerk Sue Audette reported that the drop box had been emptied at 8 p.m. on election night, however, there was what she characterized as “an oversight” with respect to these ballots. The ballots were not transported to the polling stations by close of polls to be read by the machines. Instead, they were placed in a safe in the Clerk’s office and so were not included in the initial vote count that was reported out that night. “They should have been counted in the town clerk’s office on election night,” Audette said.
Among the attendees on Monday were Audette, Assistant Clerk Amber Martin, Town Attorney Gregg Corbo, Police Captain Gabriel Ting, Registrars Demetria Shabazz and Jacqueline Gardner, as well as Rooney and Ross. A number of observers and reporters were also present. Two poll workers conducted the opening, reading and tallying of the outstanding ballots.
The most consequential of the 17 ballots were two from Precinct 9 (District 4) where Rooney led Ross by three votes for a District Councilor seat. Rooney and Ross each claimed one additional vote, maintaining the three vote differential in favor of Rooney. (The other District 4 candidate, Anika Lopes, won her seat handily with 568 votes.) The remaining 15 ballots counted on Monday were from precincts 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8, and were not sufficient in number to impact the results in any other races.
Also not included in the initial results were approximately 40 ballots, termed “auxiliary ballots,” that could not be read by machine and were hand-counted in subsequent days. Audette reported that those ballots were also evenly split between Rooney and Ross.
In addition to the counting of the 17 ballots on Monday, Audette opened election ballot transfer boxes from three separate precincts where she said election materials had been mistakenly locked inside on election night. No additional ballots were among the materials. “When you’re tired at the end of the night, people make mistakes,” Audette said.
Local attorney Carol Gray asked Audette for the chain of custody of the 17 ballots, which refers to the paper trail that documents the transfer of election materials from one person or place to the next, but was rebuffed by Attorney Corbo. “That’s not what we’re here for today,” Corbo said.
Following up on Gray’s question, North Amherst resident Nancy Sardeson, who worked as a voting rights attorney for many years, asked that there be an opportunity at some point “to talk about what happened and to figure out how we can stop something like this from happening again.” Sardeson reiterated the request for a copy of the chain of custody log, which Audette said she would provide.
Gray asked Audette if anything like this had ever happened in Amherst before but Corbo interjected and instructed Audette not to answer.
Still outstanding are three overseas ballots which, if postmarked on or before election day and received by 5 p.m. on November 12, will be counted. Audette reported that one of the overseas ballots is for District 4. Audette indicated that there is also one provisional ballot from District 1 which is pending review by the Registry of Motor Vehicles to see if it should be counted.
According to Audette, Ross took out papers to petition for a recount on Thursday (11/4) and has until Friday (11/12) at 5 p.m. to submit his petition and required signatures. If a recount is to be held it will be at a time and date determined by the Board of Registrars and will be supervised by Attorney Lauren Goldberg of KP Law who was also present for the town’s recount in 2017.