North Adams Solicitor Deems 460 Ballots Illegal
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — More than 400 ballots in last Tuesday's preliminary election for mayor were deemed illegal by City Solicitor John DeRosa because voters followed the instructions on the ballot and voted for more than one candidate.
According to DeRosa, the ballots were printed erroneously and instructed voters to vote for more candidates than were officers to be elected and, therefore, those votes are illegal according to state law. Even without those votes, Richard Alcombright and Ronald Boucher would have won the top two spots, placing their names on the November ballot for mayor. The City Council may adopt a home-rule petition to ask the state Legislature to validate the results instead of holding another election.
"We found this to be an honest mistake and a good faith mistake," DeRosa said on Monday at a press conference at City Hall.
City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau prepared the ballots and set the voting machines to look for two candidates because the election was narrowing the field down from three to two candidates for the general election. The day after the election she was questioned about the ballots and contacted DeRosa for an opinion.
"I thought what I did was right and the question began to arise throughout the day ... The doubt was put in my mind and I began to question and I looked at the statutes and ordinances and I didn't find anything as far as language goes on the ballot and I immediately called John DeRosa," Gomeau said.
This was the first preliminary election in the city in at least 14 years. Pittsfield has had preliminary elections in the last two cycles to narrow large mayoral fields down to two candidates; in both cases, the ballots instructed voters to select one name.
There have not been any complaints lodged with the city clerk or the secretary of state's office and the issue was brought to light by Gomeau's own volition, DeRosa said.
"We feel we've gotten it right and we technically need to correct it," DeRosa said.
The City Council will now hold an emergency meeting, as early as Wednesday, to adopt a home-rule petition that will validate the results. A total of 460 ballots were deemed illegal but the next runner-up, Robert Martelle, was 535 votes behind so even without the illegal ballots, the same two candidates would move on to the general election. The petition must be approved by the state Legislature before the next election on Nov. 8.
"We are confident this is the right approach," DeRosa said. "We fully expect the Legislature to approve it."
DeRosa said he will be meeting with state officials Monday afternoon and the mayoral election is not expected to be delayed. There are other towns seeking home-rule petitions and the process should move quickly on Beacon Hill, he said.
Alcombright and Boucher both expressed support of Gomeau and believe the error was an honest mistake.
"It's not a big deal. It's not the end of the world and we will keep moving forward," Boucher said.
DeRosa's full opinion and a draft of the home rule petition are available below.
2011 North Adams Preliminary Election Ballot Opinion
Boucher Reacts to Primary Results, Begins General Campaign
"My campaign staff has worked tremendously hard these last two weeks, and this was more than we had hoped for and clearly shows how our support is growing each and every day," said Boucher, currently City Council president. "Considering my campaign was only formally announced two weeks ago, my staff assembled six weeks ago, and considering I was outspent 10 to one, I am optimistic for the future, but want to ask all my supporters to continue to work as hard as ever in order to build on this momentum, in order to carry us to victory in November."
Boucher added, "Now that the race has been narrowed down to myself and my opponent, my detailed position on issues will be made public in a series of press releases starting next week. I look forward to one-on-one debates with my opponent and am confident that once the public learns the details of my positions and ideas, I will emerge as the victor on Nov. 8. Finally, I would like to congratulate Mr. Martelle on a great preliminary effort."
The campaign to elect Ron Boucher Mayor of North Adams would like to invite everyone to come watch Ron march in the Fall Foliage parade on Oct. 2, and also to extend an invitation to the Spaghetti Supper Fundraiser at the American Legion on Oct. 13. You can learn more about Ron Boucher and his campaign by visiting www.VoteBoucher2011.com. Inquiries can be mailed to VoteBoucher2011@yahoo.com.
Barrett Reels In 45 Write-In Votes For Mayor
|Write-in: John Barrett III
|Total ballots cast
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's longtime former mayor still has supporters who would like to see him reseated in the corner office.
In Tuesday's preliminary election John Barrett III received 45 write-in votes. Six others received write-in votes but because the totals were fewer than five votes, the names will not be recorded.
The official totals put Richard Alcombright with 1,105 votes and Ronald Boucher with 741 to place them on the mayoral ballot in November. Robert Martelle finished with 216 votes.
However, the ballots had voters have been puzzled. Rather than voting for one person, the ballots asked for voters to vote for "no more than two" candidates, which created 1,204 blank votes. If someone voted for one person, their other vote was considered "blank."
City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau said the voting machines were set and the ballots were written that way because the election sought two candidates. But a number of residents claimed preliminary elections in the past have always asked voters to choose only one.
According to Brian McNiff, a spokesman from Secretary of State William Galvin's office, the city charter would indicate how many candidates to vote for on the preliminary ballot.
Former City Clerk Mary Ann Abuisi, who was clerk during the last preliminary 14 years ago, said preliminary elections have been rare but does not remember ever having voters choose multiple candidates.
In Pittsfield, voters in the preliminary election on Tuesday only picked one candidate. In any case, more than two-thirds voters chose not to select two candidates.
Boucher and Alcombright both submitted their campaign finance reports, detailing receipts and expenditures up to eight days before the election.
As of Sept. 19, Boucher received a total of $1,669 in contributions and spent $666.27. He also received $1,410 worth of in-kind contributions. Alcombright received $7,466 in contributions and spent $5,910.
The full reports are available below.
2011 Finance Report Ron Boucher
2011 Finance Report Richard Alcombright
Bianchi, Marchetti Earn November Ballot Spot
Bianchi, who narrowly lost the 2009 election by some 200 votes to incumbent Mayor James Ruberto, came out on top with 3,430 votes, or 49 percent of those cast in the city's seven wards.
Next in line was Marchetti, a four-term city councilor, with 2,759, or 39.4 percent.
Mood at the Bianchi celebration at Mazzeo's Ristorante was pleased and unsurprised by his nearly 700-vote lead.
The candidate joked that "I'm still not sure if my daughter voted for Steve Fillio" and said third-place candidate Joseph Nichols had pledged to support him.
Nichols and Melissa Mazzeo, both whom are often in the voting minority together, were both in attendance.
Bianchi and Marchetti were the front-runners going into the five-way race, although some thought that Nichols, a local businessman finishing up his first term on the council, might cut into their leads. Nichols ended with 691 votes, barely 10 percent.
Marchetti, with supporters at the Itam Club where he launched his campaign a few months back, said he's ready to start the real race. Supporters seemed surprised at his second-place showing but committed to the campaign, including Ruberto, City Councilor Peter White and state representative candidate Tricia Farley-Bouvier.
"I'm happy to be a winner tonight, and we'll continue to fight until November 8," said Marchetti.
Trailing far behind were past mayoral candidates Stephen Fillio with 77 votes (1 percent) and Donna Walto with 44 (.6).
Unlike in North Adams, voters selected only one candidate.
Ward 4 voters had their own preliminary election to select two candidates who will try to replace outgoing Councilor Michael Ward.
They picked last election's challenger to Ward, Christopher Connell, with 610 votes and former ward representative Ozias "Chuck" Vincelette with 523. Left out was newcomer James Brosnan with 346 votes.
Alcombright, Boucher Take Top Preliminary Spots
Campaign supporters were out at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center, where four of the city's wards vote.
Toting up the results of Tuesday's preliminary election.
Incumbent Alcombright outpolled both his challengers in the balloting that saw about 18 percent of the city's 9,000-odd voters go to the polls.
"I was very pleased. If you look at the numbers, the percentages almost to follow kind of what they did in the last election back in '09," said Alcombright. "I think we were upwards of 60 percent."
The incumbent said this was just a battle and his campaign will "run a strong, hard campaign for the rest of the time."
"We have to work hard," he said, pledging to "stay focused on our message and stay positive." "Ron's a good candidate and the next few weeks will be telling as we dig into the issues and see really where our differences lie."
Boucher wasn't too far behind the incumbent. Both handily outstripped third place Robert Martelle, whose campaign barely registered.
"I'm very excited," said Boucher. "I thought the turnout for us at 751[votes] was excellent considering less than two weeks ago, we just had our kickoff and our campaign has only been together, working at it for only six weeks.
"The mayor probably outspent us three to one in advertising," he said. "All I can say is I look forward to the opportunity to debate the mayor in the coming weeks. We will talk about the issues that are important to the city ... the vision and the ideas going forth."
Boucher noted the large number of voters who failed to turnout. "I believe this is going to be a horse race to the end ... there's a lot of people sitting out there waiting for what we have to say."
In total, Alcombright received 1,105 votes; Boucher, the current City Council president, earned 751, and Martelle 216.
Ken O'Brien, head warden at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center, described the turnout as "medium" and said it "was steady and slow all day."
"It went as smooth as can be," he said.
The voting wasn't straightforward, however, because voters were asked to pick "not more than two" candidates. That means some people voted two candidates, but many more apparently voted for one if the high number of blanks is any indication.
A blank vote occurred if only one vote — or no votes — was cast on the ballot. So one ballot could have an actual vote and a blank vote. There were 1,206 blank votes on the 1,664 ballots cast, indicating that voters may not have understand they could vote for two candidates or didn't care to vote for two.
Each of the five wards showed a similar trend with about two-thirds of voters selecting only one name. Some supporters may have tried to outwit each other by selecting their candidate and throwing a vote to Martelle; others likely picked the two front-runners.
But it's obvious many more voters didn't even bother to come out, figuring they'd wait to cast their ballots for real come November.
|Total ballots cast
Update: Rewrite throughout; quotes added at 10:48 p.m. Tuesday.