FAIRHAVEN – After a four-hour recount Tuesday night, Board of Health incumbent Peter DeTerra led by one vote, but the Registrars decided to wait one more night before giving their final seal of approval. They scheduled a meeting for Wednesday to review the discrepancy in the numbers of people who checked in versus those who checked out at some polling places.
That meeting, last night, took place after the deadline for this week’s Advocate. The results will be posted online at SouthCoastToday.com/Advocate on Thursday.
The final tally Tuesday was 1,229 for Mr. DeTerra and 1,228 for John Wethington.
During the evening, one ballot that wasn’t clearly marked was hotly contested. The counter declared it for Mr. DeTerra but it was challenged by Attorney Ann DeNardis, who represents Mr. Wethington. After the challenge, the counter ruled that the ballot was blank because the marking was not within the bubble.
The Board of Registrars then split 2-2 on whether to let the counter change her decision. Citing election law and court cases, Ms. DeNardis said, “There has to be some kind of mark within the block. The vote in question has nothing within the circle whatsoever.”
Town Counsel Thomas Crotty said the law says to determine the will of the voter.
Mr. Crotty said “unfortunately,” with four registrars, including Town Clerk Eileen Lowney, they ended with a tie.
After a lengthy discussion and continued arguments by Ms. DeNardis, the Registrars ended up going with the counter’s original call for Mr. DeTerra, with Ms. DeNardis asking them to “note” that she was disputing it.
Mr. Crotty then asked the counter to “slow down a little” to avoid making a decision too quickly when a ballot was confusingly marked.
Later in the evening, Ms. DeNardis challenged the counter’s decision on another ballot, saying it was for Mr. Wethington. That marking was in the circle for a write-in candidate and the Registrars decided to call it a blank.
After the count gave him a one-vote margin, sitting on the side, Mr. DeTerra said that should be the end of it. He said the voters had spoken and that he’d been declared the winner three times. That occurred first on election night April 1 after Mr. Wethington was declared the winner and sworn in, only to be reversed later that evening when Ms. Lowney counted 48 votes she said were rejected by the machine.
Ms. Lowney held a recount April 5 after discovering that votes for write-in’s and hand counts had been placed in each others’ envelopes at Precinct 1. She said only seven ballots had to be recounted, not 48. After that count, Mr. DeTerra was declared the winner again by a thin margin.
Another problem that surfaced following the election was that the number of check-in’s and check-out’s didn’t match at some polls.
All these problems prompted the state Elections Division to launch an investigation into what it called “irregularities” in the handling of the Fairhaven town election. The state hasn’t issued any statement on the election since then.
Ms. DeNardis wouldn’t say Tuesday if she would challenge the election results in court. She said she wanted to see what the Registrars decided on Wednesday.
Ms. DeNardis had asked at the beginning of the evening to have 14 questions addressed. Among them was a request to review the disparities in the check-in’s and check out’s at the polling stations.
Mr. Crotty resisted, saying she should wait for the end of the recount. He said if the margin grew substantially, say to over 300 votes, there would be no reason to review the discrepancy in the checked off voters.
Ms. DeNardis said the margin was “unlikely” to grow that substantially.
Ms. DeNardis brought that refusal up at the end of the evening, telling the Registrars they “can’t certify the votes… with all the issues that came out in this election.”
As at the earlier recount, she said the town clerk’s handling of the ballots on her own after the election raised too many questions. She pointed out again that the ballots had never been sealed.
She also said she wanted evidence that the voter count on the machines matched the total count in the recount Tuesday night.
Ms. DeNardis said, “You may declare that it’s impossible to render a certification in this election.” She said if the vote counts don’t match, “Then the vote is a sham.”
Ms. DeNardis said she’d just checked the votes tallied at one precinct and that the “tally didn’t match with what we counted tonight.”
She said she was stopped by Mr. Crotty before she could check whether they match in the other precincts.
Mr. Crotty said she could include this discrepancy in “an appeal to the Superior Court,” along with any other disrepancies.
John Markey, Jr., the attorney for Mr. DeTerra, argued, “The best evidence that you have is there,” in the ballots counted that night. “My client won all three times.” He said they should “pull the trigger” and “allow the court” to consider their argument.
Earlier in the evening, before the votes were all counted, Mr. Wethington said, “I don’t have anything to say yet.” But asked if he thought the town should hold the election again for the Board of Health, he said, “I’d love to have a redo on June 25.”
That date is when the U.S. Senate seat is on the ballot.
Dawn Devlin, who has been active in Windwise, which supported Mr. Wethington, said she’s also in favor of holding a new election.
“If the state hadn’t said they want to investigate, it would be a different story,” she said.
Ms. DeNardis is also the attorney for residents opposed to the wind turbines and has been outspoken at meetings of town boards where the turbines are up for discussion. Among those is the Board of Health, which has not always allowed Windwise members to speak. Mr. DeTerra was the chairman of the health board this past year.
Thus, changing that one seat could have an impact on future decisions the Board of Health makes about the two large wind turbines on town-owned land. The turbines have generated complaints from more than 50 households, mostly involving noise and lack of sleep.
In the town election in April, incumbent Selectmen Brian K. Bowcock, who supported the turbines, was overwhelmingly defeated.
Mr. DeTerra said Tuesday that he has spent a lot of money so far in attorney’s fees in the aftermath of the election.
Registrars voted to adjourn Tuesday shortly after 10 p.m.
Another recount was held separately Monday night for the Planning Board seat, which John Farrell was declared on election night to have won by 10 votes. A later count narrowed that margin to four votes.
In that race, Cathy Melanson sought a recount. After the recount Monday, Mr. Farrell’s margin grew to 14 votes and Ms. Melanson conceded the victory to him. She said she will most likely seek public office in the future.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding