North Adams Solicitor Deems 460 Ballots IllegalUpdate: The City Council will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 5:30 to vote on the order for a home-rule petition to legitimize the preliminary election. Vice President Lisa Blackmer will preside at the meeting.
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