Ward 5 ballot box will be opened today

LACONIA — The 47 ballots cast on September 10 in the primary election for the City Council seat in Ward 5 will be recounted today at City Hall beginning at 4:30 p.m., as the result of a brief hearing before Justice James D. O'Neill III of Belknap Superior Court yesterday.

Dave Gammon, who believes former mayor Tom Tardif received enough enough write-in votes to earn a spot on the general election ballot, asked the court to order the recount. Tardif has yet to indicate whether he will be a candidate, saying that he would await formal notification from City Clerk Mary Reynolds.

"It's a family decision," he remarked.

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 in the primary, 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 claimed that he, his wife and another woman cast write-in ballots for Tardif. 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 has ten days to either accept or decline. After the deadline for requesting a recount passed,

Gammon petitioned the court to order City Clerk Mary Reynolds, who otherwise has no authority to unseal and open the ballots, to conduct a recount. Attorney Laura Spector-Morgan, representing the City Clerk, endorsed the call for a recount, but also asked the court to require Tardif to decide whether or not to become a candidate "immediately upon completion of the recount."

When the parties appeared in court, O'Neill asked Gammon and Spector-Morgan to approach the bench, where he explained that, as in past matters to which Tardif was a party, he would recuse himself from the case. He asked Gammon and Spector-Morgan to draft an agreement to hold a recount then forward it to the Merrimack County Superior Court, which would order Reynolds to conduct it.

O'Neill said that a hearing on Gammon's request that the city reimburse him for his $278 in court costs would be scheduled in either Merrimack County Superior Court or Carroll County Superior Court at a later date.

Outside the courtroom, Spector-Morgan and Gammon reached an agreement, written in longhand, to recount the votes for councilor and ward clerk in Ward 5. When Spector-Morgan asked Tardif if he would make his decision once the recount was over he initially suggested he might defer his decision pending the outcome of the hearing on court costs. He said that Gammon should not have to incur expenses for protecting the integrity of a municipal election.

Later Tardif said that he would not tie his decision to the question of court costs.

However, when he and Gammon suggested that since Gammon paid to correct an error by election officials, the city should bear the cost, Spector-Morgan agreed to approach City Manager Scott Myers about picking up the tab. She noted that if the city simply paid his costs it would spare itself the costs arising from another court.

Reynolds said that she has drafted a letter to Tardif in anticipation that the recount will confirm he is entitled to a place on the general election ballot. She said that she will hand deliver the letter once the ballots are counted.

Reynolds said that the dispute has already delayed her preparations for the general election on November 5 by more than week. She said that if Tardif has not notified her of his decision by the end of this week, she will order the ballots to be printed and the machines programmed for Wards 1, 2, 3 ,4 and 6 on Monday. "I was trained to avoid paying the set-up fee twice," she said, explaining that to print and program for Ward 5 separately could add $500 or more to the cost of preparing election materials.

Reynolds said that she aims to print the general election ballots and distribute absentee ballots at least 30 calendar days before the general election.