Antrim select board candidate requests recount

  • John Robertson  Courtesy photo—

  • Charles Levesque Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Friday, March 24, 2017 4:41PM

Votes cast in a contested select board race in Antrim last Thursday during town election will be recounted.

Incumbent John Robertson was able to edge out his opponent Charles Levesque by 24 votes, according to results posted on the town’s website after ballots were tallied. Results showed Robertson swept up 167 votes to Levesque’s 143.

Town Clerk Diane Chauncey said Levesque requested the recount, which is governed under RSA: 669:30 - 35.

Levesque said he only requested the recount after he heard that a class action lawsuit could be filed against towns who postponed their election days as a result of Tuesday’s blizzard that dumped a foot and a half of snow on the area.

Despite the state’s guidance to hold elections as scheduled, many towns in the state moved their election or meeting dates, citing public safety concerns.

Levesque said he believes pushing back election day led to depressed voter turnout. This year, 315 people cast ballots out of 2,038 who were on the checklist, or about 15 percent. Last year, 496 people voted out of 1,924 people on the list, or about 26 percent.

Turnout could have changed the outcome of the race, he said.

Levesque said turnout in areas that held voting day on March 14 generally saw average voting rates. Francestown was the only town in the Ledger-Transcript’s coverage area that held its election on Tuesday. A total of 411 ballots were cast during its election out of 1,171 names on its list, or about 35 percent. The year prior, 506 people cast a ballot out of 1,088 on the list, or about 47 percent.

If a class action lawsuit is filed, Levesque said a recount would show a judge that he has made an effort, which could give the case more teeth in court.

“If it was in front of a judge, a recount would show that I made an effort,” Levesque said.

Senate Bill 248, “ratifying elections and meetings postponed due to a weather emergency on March 14, 2017,” is working its way through state legislature. A hearing regarding the bill lasted for more than two hours on Tuesday where attorneys, town officials, and citizens testified before members of the Senate Election Law Committee regarding changes made to election day.

NH Secretary of State Bill Gardner said he attended the lengthy meeting. He said it was clear that some people who testified felt like they had been denied a vote as a result of postponed elections. During the hearing, Gardener said, citizens told anecdotes about how they had traveled to their town building, only to find out it was locked and no one was there. Some of those people were unable to cast their ballot on the rescheduled election day due to a myriad of personal reasons.

The Secretary of State’s office advised towns to hold their elections on March 14 despite the impending snow storm. Gardner pointed to RSA 669:1 as a reason for the decision, which states towns are required to hold election day on the second Tuesday in March.

He said there is also a calendar that is available to the public that has a set of dates municipalities need to follow; for example, he said, March 13 is the last day to file an absentee ballot, March 14 is town election day, and March 17 is the last day to file for a recount. Due to postponed elections, some towns didn’t vote before March 17, meaning that if someone asked for a recount, they technically couldn’t, according to the calendar.

“All of these sorts of things started to come up,” Gardner said about towns’ decisions to postpone elections. But many town officials relied on another law that allows town moderators to move the “voting day of a meeting” in a weather emergency up to two hours prior to to the scheduled session, or RSA 40:4.

There’s some controversy whether the law regarding changing the “voting day of the meeting” refers to elections or to other meetings that voters decide on a town’s annual budget and other business. The Senate committee voted 3-2 to amend SB 248 to create a study committee, as a placeholder to ensure they can meet deadlines for getting a bill to the House. Republicans declined to recommend passage, in part, because some towns still hadn’t voted by Tuesday’s hearing.

“People believe we need to deal with this, that the legislature needs to do something,” Gardner said. “We need some resolution on this.”

Regardless of the election’s outcome, win or lose, Levesque said he would be interested in the lawsuit because of its effect on voter turnout. He said he doesn’t have any real hard agenda that he would push if voted onto the board, but said he thinks it’s important to add fresh blood and new ideas to the board every so often. Levesque said he has a background that he believes would add new perspective on town issues.

Robertson said after the election he received a note with a sugar house pictured on the front from Levesque, congratulating him on the win.

“To send someone a card conceding the election and then ask for a recount,” Robertson said pausing. “That, to me, is hitting a little below the belt.”

He said he doesn’t think the recount will accomplish much.

“This is a little like losing the ball game in the ninth inning and then asking to keep playing,” Robertson said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Robertson said voter turnout could have been lower because the election had been postponed. Chauncey said the applicant, in this case Levesque, has to pay for any cost incurred as a result of a recount. She said the applicant pays a $40 fee up front, and will be charged for any other costs once it’s complete. The recount will be held Monday, March 27 at the Little Town Hall at 4:30 p.m.

Five people count the ballots including the moderator, town clerk, and three selectmen, not including Robertson, whose spot will be assumed by Supervisor of the Checklist Lauren Kirkpatrick.