Johnson withdraws from 2nd Hampshire race

  • Clark Johnson, one of four candidates for State Representative for the 2nd Hampshire District, has ended his campaign after a "clerical error" left him without the required number of signatures to make it onto the Sept. 4 Democratic primary ballot. Courtesy of Clark Johnson campaign website—

Friday, June 01, 2018

SOUTH HADLEY — Clark Johnson, one of four candidates for State Representative for the 2nd Hampshire District, has withdrawn his candidacy after a “clerical error” left three of his signature pages unverifiable by the state.

Johnson, a first-time candidate for political office, said that three of his nine pages of signatures to place his name on the September 4 Democratic primary ballot were rejected by the Secretary of State’s office because information was missing from the address line.

“The clerk took my papers, looked at them, and said ‘you only have 111 of 150 signatures’,” Johnson said. “It was kind of a shock to have it happen this way.”

Johnson submitted his papers to the South Hadley Town Clerk on May 1, he said, and the clerk verified that he lives in South Hadley and was a viable candidate for office. When he brought the signature pages to the Secretary of State’s elections division in Springfield to certify the signatures he had collected, however, it appeared there were missing apartment numbers on some of the forms.

State election law states that, “The candidate’s name, residence, political party or designation, the office for which the candidate is running, and the district in which he or she is running must be placed on the nomination papers before any signatures are gathered. These areas of the nomination papers are highlighted in gray. If any information is missing from the gray areas of the paper, no signatures on these papers can be counted.”

Johnson said he had been contracting out for things like his campaign website, and as a first time candidate, was learning by experience.

“I have been my own campaign manager,” Johnson said. “If I had had a campaign manager, I’m almost certain my full address would have been on those forms.”

Carlene C. Hamlin, South Hadley Town Clerk, said she had no comment on the matter.

Secretary of State spokesperson Debra O’Malley said that had the South Hadley Town Clerk seen or noticed the missing information, the clerk would have placed a red line through the signature pages indicating that they were void. She said there was no red line.

O’Malley said that there is no other recourse for the unverified papers other than to go to court, and said that the elections division had purposefully placed a gray box around the required information to lessen the chance of mistakes like this one. She added that historically, court cases have ruled that no papers can be accepted if any information is missing.

Johnson said he met with three Boston lawyers to discuss whether he had legal recourse, but he said the lawyers told him that the courts typically interpret election laws literally and his chances of winning would be slim. He also said he did not want to spend the money required for legal action.

“I could be indignant, but there are better things to be indignant about than the Secretary of State wanting to follow ballot rules to the letter,” Johnson said.

The 2nd Hampshire seat is currently held by Rep. John Scibak, who himself ended up running a write-in campaign in 2002 after he missed the deadline to re-enroll himself in the Democratic Party in time for the primary. A member of the South Hadley Select Board for 11 years before his campaign for State Representative, Scibak’s write-in campaign was successful and he has served in the Statehouse for the 15 years since, until announcing that he would not seek re-election this year.

Johnson said he doesn’t have the name recognition or local government backing that Scibak had, and as such, he made the decision to end his campaign rather than pursue a write-in. Johnson spent his adolescence in South Hadley and then worked for large banking companies in foreign exchange operations and as a civilian employee in the Middle East for the U.S. State and Defense departments.

“I don’t see that as a winning strategy,” Johnson said. “If I were on the ballot, I believe it would be winnable.”

However, he said he’s still deeply interested in issues like education, health care and creating strong environments for business. He hasn’t been scared away from running for office, he said, and next time he’ll know which details to double check.

Former South Hadley Select Board member John Hine, Easthampton City Councilor Daniel R. Carey and Granby after-school program director Marie McCourt, all Democrats, are now the three remaining candidates for the 2nd Hampshire seat.

M.J. Tidwell can be reached at mjtidwell@gazettenet.com.