2017-09-15 / Front Page

Election process under review

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

In light of two elections this summer in which some ballots were initially left out of the tally, Scarborough officials are taking measures to make sure that doesn’t happen again by asking the Secretary of State’s office to review election practices and forming an ad hoc committee to come up with recommendations.

Election workers inadvertently failed to count 200 ballots from the July 25 school budget vote and noticed the error after the results were certified by the council Aug. 2. Last week, 420 ballots were not tabulated in the Sept. 5 referendum and noticed the next morning after the unofficial results were disseminated but before they were certified by the council. At the November 2016 elec- tion, a thumb drive with 2,700 absentee votes were not added to the in-person voting, but like last week’s case, was noticed before the results were officially certified.

While the outcome of the vote and elections did not change as a result, councilors agreed last week a review of the process is still needed.

The ad hoc committee will be made up of Council Chairman Shawn Babine, ordinance committee chairman Bill Donovan, Town Manager Tom Hall, Town Clerk Tody Justice, and three residents, one being Kevin Freeman, and is charged with “reviewing established local rules and procedures for the administration of municipal elections and referendum votes.” The committee, according to the order to establish it, “shall report to the town council no later October 4, 2017 its findings and provide any recommendations for the council to consider.”

“This is not about our town clerk. I have the highest respect and greatest confidence in her work. She is a dedicated employee but when we have these types of instances and number of them, the council needs to take a leadership role in at least making sure there are safeguards in place to make sure the public can be assured our election process is of the utmost integrity,” said Babine, who brought up the idea to his fellow councilors, who supported it unanimously.

Babine said the committee’s review may also involve how unofficial results are shared with the public.

The committee’s work and any improvements that come out of it, Councilor Will Rowan said, will be important.

“We really need to assure the integrity of the election because that is the bedrock of democracy,” he said.

Justice said elections are something she, and her fellow election workers take very seriously and work to immediately fix mistakes when they occur.

“Our safety net has been tested in the past and each time the protocol we have in place assisted us in identifying the error and each time we took immediate action to rectify the error. We take pride in serving the community and want to assure you the integrity of elections and process is our upmost priority,” she said.

“We sit here before you this evening humbled and embarrassed we’ve had another snafu,” Hall told councilors before they officially certified the results of the Sept. 5 referendum vote, which was supported by 2,402 voters and opposed by 2,226.

Councilor Chris Caiazzo, who has gone through elections as a school board candidate in 2012, town council candidate in 2015 and state representative candidate in 2016, said the process Scarborough uses is not broken.

“I know it may not seem like it, but the process is working. The checks and balances put in place found the discrepancies,” he said.

Councilor Katy Foley called formation of the committee “a very positive and appropriate response.”

She said there is no one in town hall she respects more than Justice.

“It’s not a reflection on her, but the process can always be improved,” she said.

Hall said although he and Justice have reached out to the Secretary of State’s office and according to a press release sent out after the wayward ballots were counted Sept. 6, have “requested that the office of Secretary of State conduct an audit of our election process and identify any weaknesses and recommend best practices, he doesn’t know what the result of that request will be.

The office, he said, regularly offers election training, but doesn’t typically conduct audits of municipal election practices. Hall said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap told him he “was pleased to be a resource for us, but was non-committal over the phone what the results would be.”

That review and the committee’s work, Hall said, will work hand-in-hand.

“We are interested in working with this committee and the Secretary of state’s office. If there are things we can do to improve so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again, I assure you they will be implemented,” Hall said.

The Secretary of State has not been asked to review the election results of July 25 or Sept. 5 as Hall’s intent was to have a “more general, broader discussion.”

Tabulating results, he noted, has always been “an imperfect process.”

“I don’t see this as a perfect system and it never will be,” he said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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