Override election redo unlikely in Northampton 

  • Northampton City Clerk Pam Powers explains how ballots and voting equipment are brought to the polls. Behind her are the bags used to transport supplies. Blue bags are used to transport ballots. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/6/2020 12:12:35 AM
Modified: 3/6/2020 12:12:24 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Election workers ran out of Proposition 2 ½ override ballots at Leeds Elementary School, the polling place for Ward 7B, for about 45 minutes on election day, but the city is unlikely to hold another election, according to local officials. 

“This is an extremely unfortunate incident and one the clerk is taking measures to make sure never happens again. I don’t see a need for a whole new election in Ward 7B,” Northampton City Solicitor Alan Seewald said Thursday. “As regrettable as it is, it would be, I just don’t see how it would change the election.”

Whether or not the city voluntarily holds another election is up to the city’s lawyer, said Debra O’Malley, spokesperson for the secretary of the commonwealth.

The override passed by a wide margin, with 8,084 residents voting “yes” and 4,947 voting “no,” according to unofficial results posted by the city clerk’s office. (The city has yet to certify the results.) The passage of the override is based on the citywide majority.

The lack of ballots affected around 50 people, Ward 7B election warden Bob Riddle estimated. In Ward 7B, “even assuming that every one of the voters that didn’t vote came out and voted no, it still wouldn't affect the election,” Seewald said on Thursday.

Some voters in 7B who arrived at Leeds Elementary School when the ballots ran out left, while others waited to vote later, according to Riddle. 

Residents can petition for a recount, but “generally, the only way to overturn elections results is a court order,” O’Malley said, giving the example of a lawsuit.

“Obviously, if somebody wants to protest the election, they can go forward and do that,” Seewald said. “I don’t think there is a basis to challenge the election. I think it would be an empty gesture.”

Northampton City Clerk Pam Powers apologized for the situation. “I take full responsibility for this. This is totally human error,” she said.

On Tuesday morning, all polling places started with 800 override ballots, Powers said. She said the plan was to dispatch more in the afternoon but override ballots did not get resupplied quickly enough at Leeds Elementary School. Poll workers contacted the city clerk’s office for more ballots when they started to run low, Riddle said, but Powers said she did not get the initial message.

When Powers finally heard that ballots were running low at the polling place in Ward 7B, the forms got sent to JFK Middle School, the polling place for Ward 7A.

“I dispatched the guy to the wrong location,” Powers said. “Both places were calling at the same time saying they needed ballots.” 

The day was further complicated by having a presidential primary and a local election on the same day, Powers said.

“It was just an unfortunate series of events — one might call a perfect storm that led to this,” Seewald said. “Again, as regrettable as it is, it's not going to change anything.”

Vote breakdown

The override vote passed in every precinct except for 6A and 7B, and in every ward except Ward 6 where it failed, according to the city clerk’s office unofficial results.

More than twice as many residents voted “no” than “yes” in Ward 6A — 319 people voted “yes” and 674 voted “no.” Ward 7B narrowly voted against the override by a 14-vote margin.

In Ward 6B, the vote was close, with “yes” winning by 21 votes. 

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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