By Shoham Geva, Summer Managing News Editor
Published July 25, 2014
The city’s Election Commission met Friday morning to discuss continued issues stemming from a misprint on 392 absentee ballots, and to test tabulation equipment for Wards 2 and 3.
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This is the third meeting the Commission has held on the issue, which began when it was discovered June 27 that Ward 3 City Council candidate Bob Dascola had been left off the first wave of absentee ballots issued by the city.
The state’s Bureau of Elections initially instructed the city to not count Ward 3 votes on the original, incorrect ballot but reversed its position over the next few days, instead instructing the city to count Ward 3 votes on the incorrect ballots over concerns of voter disenfranchisement, which prompted Dascola to file a motion against the city on July 7.
In a decision handed down Tuesday, the court barred the city from counting Ward 3 votes on the incorrect ballots and required both the city and the state, who were granted a motion to intervene in the case, to file plans with them on how they planned to ensure votes from the incorrect ballots wouldn’t be counted by Friday.
Because this is the second time Dascola has appeared in federal court over the election — in March, he successfully sued the city to get on the ballot after a dispute over residency requirements — the judge also ordered the city to explain why the court shouldn’t hold it in contempt for the error in leaving Dascola off the ballot, given his previous ruling that Dascola was eligible to be on it.
In the meeting Friday, City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry updated the commission on the number of individuals who have turned in an incorrect ballot without also turning in a second, corrected ballot, which stands at 10. She said her office was fairly certain out of those 10, based on e-mail and phone contact that three of those individuals will turn in a second ballot by next week. Two hundred eighteen absentee ballots for the area have currently been turned in per Friday morning, and Beaudry said the response rate in Ward 3 doesn’t seem to be any different than in other wards.
Votes in City Council races, and in Ward 3 races, have been known to be decided by small margins in the past— in 2010, current City Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) won by six votes — which was one of the concerns cited by Dascola and his attorney, along with the argument that the state had no authority or precedent to ask the city to count Ward 3 votes on the misprinted ballots.
The city hasn’t taken a position on the issue throughout the process, including in their response to the motion in federal court. City Attorney Stephen Postema said in the meeting Friday that in this particular case, the issue of voter disenfranchisement, the main concern highlighted by the state, is different than in other situations when misprint issues have come up because every affected voter should have received the chance to vote with a correct ballot by now. He added that while the city can’t predict how many more people will return incorrect ballots, thus far voters have overwhelmingly returned the correct ones.
“The goal is to whittle down that ten, and to deal with any new ones that come in,” Postema said of the incorrect ballots. “But as far as people not having the correct ballot, obviously as of July 5th or 4th all the people of the 392 have both ballots, have the correct ballot now, and so the issue of disenfranchisement if they didn’t have a second ballot and couldn’t vote, it’s different than the situation where the ballots are incorrect on ballot day.”
Beaudry also outlined several additional measures the city will be taking, which include a special training for Ward 3 ballot counters next week on how to identify incorrect ballots, as well as specific instructions for tabulating Ward 3 ballots approved by the state’s Bureau of Elections, She said she was confident any incorrect ballots that come up during the process would be flagged either by manual checks or by the machine which does the actual tabulation.
“It will be caught,” she said. “Besides all the other steps and checks and processes, the final step will be that the tabulator program cannot read those ballots.”
Tabulation equipment for Wards 2 and 3 was also tested during the meeting. Beaudry said the commission is required to publicly test equipment each year, and included Ward 3 in the test due to the misprint issues.
The commission has no more regularly scheduled meetings in place before the primary election on August 7 — their main function is to approve election workers and ballots as well as test equipment, which is now complete — but Postema requested that they meet an additional time next week to relieve any lingering concerns or issues with the Ward 3 ballots.