Amherst Board of Registrars expected to dismiss complaint about signatures gathered by School Committee candidate

Last modified: Friday, February 20, 2015
AMHERST — A complaint by two Town Meeting members that a School Committee candidate did not gather enough signatures to be on the March 31 election ballot is expected to be dismissed by the Board of Registrars at its meeting Friday.

The four-member board is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. at Town Hall to act on the challenge filed by Mary Wentworth, of Precinct 5, and Vincent O’Connor, of Precinct 1, claiming that Phoebe Hazzard, of 208 Snell St., did not collect the necessary 50 signatures to have her name printed on the ballot.

Town Clerk Sandra Burgess last week certified the signatures and determined that enough were gathered so that Hazzard will be on the ballot.

Burgess said Thursday that the board will not respond to the complaint because it was submitted too late. Any appeals had to be filed by 5 p.m. Feb. 12, exactly two days after the filing deadline for candidates. Wentworth and O’Connor, she said, missed the mandated “two working days” deadline when they turned in the complaint at 5:35 p.m. Feb. 12.

“There isn’t going to be a process,” Burgess said. “They can’t act on something that wasn’t filed on time.”

Wentworth contends that if the challenge is rejected, she and O’Connor may appeal to a “higher authority.” “We’ll see what happens at (Friday’s) hearing,” Wentworth said.

Wentworth said she believes working days cannot include the Thursday morning hours when the town clerk’s office is closed to the public, observing that there was insufficient time for the public to review the 59 signatures Hazzard submitted.

“There’s a disagreement over the timing,” Wentworth said.

Hazzard and Viraphanh Douangmany, of 12 Longmeadow Drive, are the only candidates for two available seats who will be on the ballot. They both had 50 or more signatures certified by the town clerk.

Wentworth said her only motivation is ensuring that rules are followed.

Wentworth said she and O’Connor focused on Hazzard, and no other candidates, because her nomination forms were taken out only 90 minutes before the election deadline. “On that basis, we thought we’d look at the signatures,” Wentworth said.

Besides allegedly illegible signatures, some printed names and addresses were misspelled, raising another red flag, Wentworth said.

“There are certain circumstances for valid signatures that we observe when we’re collecting them, and certainly one rule that it has to be a signature that is recognizable by the town clerk,” Wentworth said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.