Ward 5 write-in vote controversy holding up printing of general election ballots

LACONIA — The petition requesting a recount of the primary election results in the City Council race in Ward 5, which Dave Gammon filed last week, will be heard in Belknap County Superior Court on Wednesday, Oct. 2. Meanwhile, City Clerk Mary Reynolds said yesterday that the questions arising from the primary have already set back preparations for the general election on November 5 by a week.

The City Charter stipulates that the two candidates receiving the most votes for each office in the primary election shall advance to the general election in November. In Ward 5, incumbent City Councilor Bob Hamel, who ran unopposed, was declared the winner with 39 of 47 ballots cast. Although election officials reported no write-in votes for city councilor, a computer print-out indicates that three write-in ballots were cast in the race.

Gammon claims that he, his wife and another woman cast write-in ballots for former mayor Tom Tardif, which would account for the three write-in votes for city councilor that appear on the computer print-out. Election officials reported that Tardif received three of four write-in votes cast for ward clerk, but none for city councilor. If Tardif received a majority of the write-in votes, he would be entitled to a place on the general election ballot, which he may either accept or decline. He has yet to indicate whether he would accept the nomination and run in the general election.

The issue can only be settled by opening the ballots, which have been sealed since the polls closed. Reynolds said that she cannot open the ballots without being authorized to conduct a recount.

Gammon asked the court to set aside the the reported results of the primary election in Ward 5 and direct the City Clerk to "schedule a recount or review of the three write-in ballots." Alternatively, he suggested the court review the ballots to identify who received the second highest number of votes in the primary election and therefore, qualified for the general election. He also asked the court to instruct the clerk not to print the ballots for the general election until "the irregularities in the conduct and reporting" of the primary election are resolved.

Reynolds said that she aims to print the general election ballots and distribute absentee ballots at least 30 calendar days before the general election. According to the law, seven days notice must be given for a recount. In other words, if the court orders a recount, it could not be held before October 10, just 26 days before the general election during which ballots would have to be prepared and printed as well as distributed to absentee voters. "That would put us three weeks behind schedule," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said that attorney Laura Spector-Morgan will ask the court, if it decides to order a recount, to also set its date and time. "I could do it the next day, October 3, if the court agrees," Reynolds said.