Vote-counting machine crashes in Southampton, delaying election results

  • Southampton Town Hall, where voters headed to the polls on May 15, 2018. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Published: 5/16/2018 12:17:31 AM

SOUTHAMPTON — Results of the town’s $493,000 Proposition 2½ override vote and townwide elections were still unsettled late Tuesday night after a vote-counting machine went down during the day.

Volunteers at Town Hall were still hand-counting more than 450 ballots at around 11:40 p.m., and Town Clerk Janine Domina said final results likely wouldn’t be in for another hour.

“I’ve never had to hand-count like this,” Domina said. “It’s an emergency situation.”

A replacement vote-counting machine was rushed in from New Hampshire, but hundreds of ballots had to be counted by hand. Domina said turnout was high.

Preliminary vote tallies showed a dead heat on the override question and Select Board race. And with hundreds of ballots in the process of being counted, no race could be called.

If the override doesn’t pass, the town will have to cut six and a half teacher positions at William E. Norris Elementary School, lay off one police officer and eliminate two positions in the highway department. There would also be cuts to administrative hours, loss of the fire department’s advanced paramedic license, and the closure of the library one day a week.

In addition to the override, there were many town offices up for grabs, though few contested races. Francine Tishman, Matt Roland, George Plouffe, and incumbent Charlie Kaniecki were competing for two open positions on the Select Board.

Passing an override was the question on many voters’ minds, however, heading into Town Hall to vote on Tuesday. That’s partly because the town has for four consecutive years rejected overrides at the ballot box.

In 2017, voters shot down a $110,000 override for additional staff and curriculum materials at the Norris School. The town voted down an override in 2016 that would have funded a second shift at the Fire Department, and turned down overrides and debt exclusions in 2015 that would have expanded Fire Department coverage, restored a police officer’s position, increased the Norris School’s budget and purchased a fuel station and generator for the Department of Public Works.

In 2014, voters rejected a $1 million override, leading to furloughs for some town employees, fewer police patrol shifts and cuts to town-funded programs and departments. Three teachers and one custodian were laid off from the Norris School, and four teachers had their hours reduced.

Voters filed into Town Hall in large numbers at around 7 p.m. when heavy rains lifted, filling the parking lot with cars and mingling about in the building’s entryway.

On the question of whether to approve the Proposition 2½ override, opinion was split.

Walking out of the building after voting, Tom O’Connor said he voted in favor of the override, largely because he has children in the elementary school and high school.

“The schools have been wonderful for our family,” he said, adding that he’s happy to step up and support them financially.

Resident Nancy Sharp, however, said she has seen taxes double since she bought her home in Southampton, and at 60 she is heading toward retirement.

“I’m leaning toward ‘no,’” she said of the ballot question as she headed in to vote. “And I feel badly saying that.”

Sharp said she wished the question had been split up by department, so that she could have voted just to increase funding for the schools, which her three children attended. But she wasn’t optimistic that her side would prevail.

“There are a lot of young families who are moving into town,” she said. “They have a lot more at stake because of the school issue.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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