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Some Post Election Thoughts
Kathleen Corey Rahme

Some (Post-Election) Random Thoughts   Who can forget the brouhaha of Election 2000 and the whole recount that followed? Although not as large, Methuen’s At Large race recount of Election 2005 was no less important. The numbers were so remarkably close for the third place finish that a recount was requested. A mere five votes separated the second and third place. I finished on top with an eighty vote spread between me and Ken Willette. Steven Zanni came in third with only five votes separating him from Joyce Campagone who finished fourth in the race.

Victory was not in the vocabulary of Zanni for what must have seemed like an eternity. He could not relish the win with the recount looming over his head for over twenty days. We all received official letters from the City Clerk’s office of the recount to be held on November 30 in the Great Hall of City Hall.

Interested parties could report to room 112 at 8:30 am to witness the movement of the ballots from the locked area. I watched as they loaded the plastic cases secured by orange ties onto a dolly and transported them upstairs with a police escort to the third floor. When we arrived in the Great Hall there were over 70 people present. Tables were set up and the people were anxiously milling about.

Tina Touma-Conway, the City Clerk, surrounded by her very capable team and the Board of Registrars of Voters, ran the entire event smoothly. The orchestration was something I will never forget. A gavel to order started the proceedings at 9:04 am. Everyone received a name tag for credentialing and workers were sworn in by the clerk. Touma-Conway delivered the ground rules in a no-nonsense fashion and to her credit she insisted that silence and order be maintained throughout the proceedings. As she put it, “the candidates deserve undivided attention and silence would be observed throughout the day and talkers would be removed.” A police officer was present throughout the day. Also present were the City Auditor and the City Solicitor.

Anyone who was not credentialed was instructed to sit in the observation area. We no sooner got started when someone called out for a police officer. An observer had a bad spell in the hallway and was removed by gurney at 9:10 am. A very capable Lee Ann Condon who chaired the Board of Registrars gaveled a five minute recess. The recount resumed at 9:24 am.

The entire recount is governed by the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 54 section 135  

(http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/54-135.htm). It is quite an interesting read and it clearly spells out the necessary steps to follow in order to have a recount.

Each such candidate or person may also be represented by agents, appointed by him or his counsel in writing, sufficient in number to provide one such agent for each officer counting or checking such ballots; provided, that no such candidate or person may have more than one such agent, other than his counsel, witnessing the work of any one officer at any one time. Each such candidate, person, counsel and agent shall have the right to watch and inspect the ballots, tally sheets and all other papers used in the recount, and to watch every individual act performed in connection therewith (MGL 54.135).

Both Zanni and Campagone had two observers each for the tables with the two election workers. Campagone submitted the proper paperwork to have six precincts recounted by hand. The remaining five precincts were machine counted in front of all observers. Ballots were counted out in lots of 50 and recounted. Tally sheets with candidates’ names and fifty columns were given to the teams and a red pen and ruler aided in the recording of the votes on each ballot. Names were called out and recorded in intervals of mere seconds. Excitement filled the air. It was going to be a long day. If an objection was raised, the observer was to call out “objection” and raise their hand. Legal counsel, the candidate and the board of registrars along with the city clerk would then intervene. There were runners in the room to carry the questioned ballot to the board of registrars so arguments could be made.

Touma-Conway reminded the crowd that “intention” is what we are counting. If a ballot is clearly incorrect with four votes on the ballot for the three seat race, then it would not be valid. It would be counted as three blanks. You would be amazed how some of the ballots looked!
With all the rules in place, the chair gaveled to order at 9:52 am. Counsel for both candidates addressed the board and made statements and arguments about the proceedings.

After all was said and done, it was determined the recount should go forward and it did at 10:09 am when the box for precinct #1 was opened. At 10:22 am the first group of 50 ballots each was distributed. They would fast and furiously until they finished the hand count at 1:18 pm. They broke for lunch and resumed at 2:00 pm for the five electronic voting machine reads. The whole process ended around 3:10 pm with Touma-Conway thanking all for their participation.

The end result gave Zanni an additional one vote lead over Campagone winning the At Large seat. The cost for the recount for the City of Methuen exceeded over $5000. Both candidates incurred their own legal expenses. It really gives refreshed meaning to the notion that every vote counts. So the next time you think your vote won’t matter, or you hear someone else say it, just remember what happened in Methuen during election 2005.  

Kathleen Corey Rahme is the Central District Councilor in Methuen and founder of the Methuen Youth Corps. You can email her at kcoreyrahme@comcast.net

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The December Edition of the Valley Patriot
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