Marblehead election mired by ballot shortage, town-wide hand count

·5 min read

Jun. 22—MARBLEHEAD — It was an election night like no other, stretching past 1 a.m. until all the ballots were counted.

A shortage in ballots early in the evening caused Marblehead election workers to switch to photocopies of ballots during Tuesday's town election, triggering a hand count across all six precincts in town. The exact number of ballots that were hand-counted was still unclear on Wednesday, although nearly 700 hand-counted ballots were tallied in the town-wide moderator race, based on preliminary results.

Final results were not released by the Town Clerk's office until just before 5 p.m. on Wednesday. And that spreadsheet did not identify which ballots were counted by machine or by hand.

Voters split over two ballot questions regarding Proposition 2 1/2 overrides that were passed at this year's Town Meeting. A five-year paving program enjoyed wide support from 57% of voters, but a tax override benefitting school programming was rejected by voters, 3,927 to 1,798 — a 67.2% rejection for an article that was declared unanimous in support at Town Meeting.

Those results were known somewhat early as machine-counted ballot results began circulating soon after polls closed at 8 p.m. Everything else, however, waited until 1:35 a.m., as the photocopied paper ballots couldn't be run through the machines. As such, all the results produced by voting machines didn't include ballots being hand-counted, casting doubt on the narrower margins seen in each race.

Ultimately, all five incumbents on the Select Board will return, with Jim Nye leading the pack and chairperson Jackie Belf-Becker placing fifth, according to final results. Challenger Bret Murray received 8% of the vote, while James Full received 6.5%.

On the School Committee, incumbent Sarah Fox will return after leading a two-seat, three-person race with 29.6% of the vote. Taking the second seat is challenger Alison Taylor, with 26.1% of the vote to third-place finisher Reece Dahlberg's 17.3% of ballots cast.

Ballot issue quiets election night

A hive of election activity consumed Abbot Hall in the early hours of Tuesday evening, with last-minute voters pushing to the second-floor voting area for precincts 2 and 3 while election staff faced a crisis in the clerk's office. By 7:30 p.m., Carl Stevens — normally on the scene to populate a public whiteboard with election results — was frequently updating those awaiting results by saying they weren't coming anytime soon. He soon went home with the boards still clear, pledging to fill them in early Wednesday morning.

Town Clerk Robin Michaud wasn't available for comment throughout the night, as staff indicated she was busy working the situation with the elections. It remains unclear what turnout looked like or what caused the town to run out of ballots.

Once polls closed and the final ballots were cast, poll-workers divided into hand-counting teams at each polling place. From that point onward, each photocopied ballot cast after the original supply of ballots ran out had each filled oval read out loud and tallied. With 27 potential votes to be cast on each ballot (for 25 elected seats and two ballot questions), each ballot took about a minute to tally.

The first results — precinct 1, voting at the Old Town House at Market Square — arrived at 10:13 p.m. Precinct 2 followed at 10:55 p.m., while precinct 3 came in at 11:03 p.m. Precincts 4 through 6, all voting at the Jacobi Community Center on Humphrey Street, rolled in at 11:18 p.m.

By that time, the election candidates and supporters — eager to celebrate or commiserate — that had filled the first floor of Abbot Hall, largely left without doing either. Only reporters from four news organizations, two election candidates, and custodian Ed Medeiros remained.

Clerk's staff then went to work behind locked doors, only finally emerging with completed machine and hand counts more than two hours later, at 1:35 a.m.

As the final results came out, only Medeiros, fire Chief Jason Gilliland and an employee of Marblehead TV remained. As the final members of the public left at 2:15 a.m., the clerk's office was still working.

They began combining vote totals later Wednesday morning, according to the clerk's office.

MODERATOR: John Attridge will take over for outgoing moderator Gary Spiess, whose 16 years guiding Town Meeting ended with the election of a successor. Attridge topped Matthew Wolverton, 2,984 to 2,307.

BOARD OF HEALTH: On the Board of Health, Helaine Hazlett prevailed by little more than 100 votes ahead of challenger Thomas McMahon, whom she beat 2,558 to 2,440.

MUNICIPAL LIGHT COMMISSION: In the three-way Municipal Light Commission race, challenger Jean-Jacques Yarmoff narrowly slid onto the commission, edging out third-place incumbent Walter Homan, 2,624 to 2,605. Incumbent Michael Hull led the field with 2,795 votes.

CEMETERY COMMISSION 1-YEAR: Pam Peterson, with 44% of the vote to Rose Ann Wheeler McCarthy's 25.7%, will join the Cemetery Commission for the remaining year of a term vacated by member Rufus Titus' resignation last November.

Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.