Failure to elect: Write-ins tied in Hatfield’s annual vote

  • Hatfield Town Hall KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 5/20/2021 8:05:30 PM

HATFIELD — Town Clerk Lydia Szych and her staff checked the tallies once, then did so twice more, each time ending up with the result that two write-in candidates for a School Committee seat had both received 140 votes.

Two hours after polls for the annual town election closed Tuesday night, Szych phoned Amanda Thayer and Catherine Englehardt to inform the candidates that no winner could be declared for the three-year position due to their receiving identical support, and also being runners-up to Jennifer Maloney, whose name was on the ballot and earned 236 votes to win the other vacant position.

“I explained to them that we counted it three times because we couldn’t believe it ourselves,” Szych said, adding that, in her eight years as town clerk, this might be strangest result yet. “I’ve never seen something like this happen.”

While write-in candidates have been deadlocked in the past, Szych said that mostly happens because they receive so few votes. To have 280 votes divided equally by two write-ins, with another 22 write-in votes scattered among other candidates, defies explanation, she said.

But Mark Wilson, an adjunct associate professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Massachusetts, said due to the relatively small number of participating voters, and people leaving their ballots blank for certain positions, the possibility of a tie isn’t that remote. He estimates the chances at just under a 1 in 100 chance of a two-way tie, and a 1 in 1,000 chance of a three-way tie.

The odds of a tie grow if the assumption is made that the write-in candidates are likely not to get as many votes as someone whose name is on the ballot.

If nothing else, Wilson said what happened in Hatfield demonstrates that voters shouldn’t take their votes for granted.

“The value of your vote is more important than you probably think,” he said.

Szych said both candidates were gracious and understanding with the unlikely election result.

Calling the tie vote “really exciting for Hatfield,” Thayer said she decided to begin a campaign a little over a week before the election and then spent election day outside Town Hall informing people how they could vote for her and answering questions about her interest in serving in elective office. The campaign and interaction with voters proved to be a good challenge.

“I do want the community to know this has been a positive thing, that I plan on letting the process unfold and I’m completely at peace with the outcome,” Thayer said.

Either Englehardt or Thayer would have to call for a recount within 10 days of the election and, if that is not pursued, or the results don’t somehow change, Szych will state that a failure to elect has occurred. That starts a new process to bring the School Committee and Select Board to a joint meeting to appoint a new member to serve until next town election. Thayer said she would put her name in for consideration if that happens.

Thayer said she wouldn’t ask for a recount, trusting that Szych got it right. “I am very comfortable with her skills as town clerk,” Thayer said.

Efforts to reach Englehardt were not immediately successful.

Only one other contested race was decided in Tuesday’s election.

Michael W. Hogan of Main Street, with 194 votes, defeated Stanley John Pitchko Jr. of Prospect Street, with 156 votes, to fill the unexpired term of the late Stanley “Buster” Symanski on the Hatfield Housing Authority.

Incumbents won reelection for other positions, including Edmund Jaworski Jr., for a three-year seat on the Select Board; Michael Paszek for a five-year term on Planning Board; Dodie Gaudet for a three-year term as library trustee; Scott McCoy for a three-year term and James Lavallee for a two-year seat on the Board of Assessors; Jeffrey Zgrodnik for a three-year seat on the Board of Health; Lucinda Williams for a three-year position on the Cemetery Commission; Alex Malinoski for a five-year seat on the Housing Authority; and William Betsold Jr. for a one-year term as elector under the Oliver Smith Will

The 378 voters represented a 14.2% turnout of the town’s 2,658 voters.

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

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