Preliminary results: Southampton passes $493,000 override

  • Southampton Town Hall, where voters headed to the polls.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

SOUTHAMPTON — After a late night of counting more than 450 ballots by hand, the preliminary results are in: Southampton has approved a Proposition 2½ override by just over 100 votes, and there is a tie for one of two available seats on the Select Board.

Francine Tishman received 937 votes to win one of the two Select Board seats at stake, while incumbent Charles Kaniecki and Matt Roland were tied at 638 votes each.

That’s according to initial vote tallies from Town Clerk Janine Domina, who was at Town Hall until 1 a.m. after a voting machine crashed during peak voting hours Tuesday, forcing volunteers to hand- count all ballots that came in from the time that machine went down to the time when a new machine was rushed in from New Hampshire.

Voter turnout was high, with approximately 1,631 ballots cast out of a checklist of 4,158.

“The turnout was really, really good,” Domina said. “It was just shy of 40 percent of the registered voters in town.”

On the ballot was a $493,000 Proposition 2½ override vote that, if rejected, would have resulted in staff cuts at William E. Norris Elementary School and other town departments, as well as other cuts to town services. Voters also had a slate of four candidates for two Select Board seats.

According to Domina’s early count, the override passed with 924 votes in favor and 814 opposed — a significant development in a town with a history of rejecting such overrides. The override request will result in an additional 72 cents of tax per $1,000 of property value over and above the 2½ increase to the levy allowed each year.

In the Select Board race, initial results showed Kaniecki receiving 637 votes to seemingly hang onto his seat by one vote over the 636 received by Roland.

But on Wednesday afternoon, Domina said three absentee ballots were not in that initial count, resulting in a tie between Roland and Kaniecki at 638 votes apiece.

Those results are still preliminary, and Domina said final tallies may not be available by the end of Wednesday.

“We have a lot of write-ins that we have to account for,” Domina said.

Requests for voters to accept overrides have been a tough sell in Southampton. In recent years, voters have shot down a $110,000 override in 2017, an override in 2016 that would have funded a second shift at the Fire Department and overrides and debt exclusions in 2015. In 2014, voters rejected a $1 million override. In 2013, an override was passed as part of a vote to approve funds for a $1.8 million project to replace a leaky roof at the Norris School.

In the event of a tie after the final count is certified in the Select Board race, either candidate has 10 days to petition for a recount. If there is no recount, or if a recount ends in another tie, Domina said that would result in a “failure to elect,” and Kaniecki would remain on the Select Board as the incumbent while the town organized a special election for his seat.

“My first reaction is one of bewilderment that this vote was so close,” Kaniecki said Wednesday morning. Asked later in the day whether, in the event of a tie, he would file for a recount, Kaniecki said he trusts the work of the town clerk, who he said has gone above and beyond her duties. “I don’t believe in petitioning for a recount.”

Roland also praised the work of the town clerk and the others involved in the ballot-counting process. He said it was too early to consider any questions about recounts or special elections, and that he is awaiting the final results.

“It’s cliche to say this, but every vote matters and every vote counts,” Roland said, remarking enthusiastically on the election’s high turnout. “The town will thrive in scenarios like this. Whatever the outcome is, the town of Southampton benefits from this level of engagement.”

The tie was a fitting development in what Domina said was a hectic and unusual day after the town’s voting machine broke. The cause of the failure: a ballot that was wet from Tuesday’s pouring rain.

“Some of the ballots got wet, and one of the ballots got jammed into the scanning unit of the ballot machine,” Domina said. “And we tried to get it out and we were unsuccessful. I guess there’s a little piece still left in there.”

Domina praised the company that made the machine, LHS Associates of New Hampshire, for rushing a new machine to town within an hour and a half. But, with more than 450 votes cast during that short period, the machine failure led to a long delay in the vote counting.

“We had a lot of community support — we had, like, eight people come in to help us count until 1 o’clock in the morning,” Domina said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.