Court to examine voter signatures in Jones Library project

  • Jones Library FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2021 6:53:30 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Hampshire Superior Court judge will examine signatures on a voter veto petition to bring the Jones Library expansion and renovation project to a townwide referendum vote on Nov. 2.

In a memorandum of decision and order in the case brought against the town’s Board of Registrars by 40 voters, most of whom had their signatures rejected when reviewed by the town clerk’s office last spring, Judge Richard J. Carey wrote that “the clerk shall schedule an in-person evidentiary hearing” Aug. 23 starting at 10 a.m.

But Carey also left the door open for the affected voters to make an appeal to the secretary of state with their motion for summary judgment, and his order, “so that the secretary may determine whether he wishes to intervene in this matter.”

During oral arguments at a teleconference July 16, Carey said he could look at the 1,088 signatures turned in by the petitioners. Of these, 842 were certified, leaving them 22 signatures short of the 864 needed to reach 5% of registered voters, and trigger a referendum on the $36.3 million project approved by Town Council.

Amherst Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek, acting town manager this week, said the town has no comment on the status of the lawsuit.

Sarah McKee, a former president of the library trustees, expressed gratitude that Carey is fast-tracking a voting rights lawsuit and ensuring Amherst voters’ due process rights in lawfully petitioning town government.

“Swift action is particularly vital, as Town Council is spending thousands of our taxpayer dollars each month on lawyers to oppose this referendum,” McKee said.

Carey noted the process to be used for review will include criteria for verifying signatures under both Massachusetts General Law chapter 53 section 7 and in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, 950 section 55.03.

“The court anticipates that, in order to evaluate the board’s reasons for non-certification, the court will need to compare the challenged signatures, as notated by the board with the reasons for non-certification, to the voter registration list,” Carey wrote.

In addition, “given that the burden is on the board to show that its non-certifications were correct” under the law, the Board of Registrars may present additional evidence “possibly in the form of testimony from the assistant town clerk who certified the signatures.”

Carey is allowing the town and its legal team more time to respond to the lawsuit, with opposition and cross-motions to be filed by early to mid-August.

“The court is satisfied that, in the interest of justice, a somewhat expedited briefing and hearing schedule for the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is appropriate,” Carey wrote.


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