MANCHESTER, NH — Eight hours into the mayoral election ballot recount, and the numbers had shifted some in Joyce Craig’s favor, but Mayor Ted Gatsas was openly frustrated about the “glitch” that turned up 24 votes for Craig in Ward 1.
“Obviously, the votes don’t lie,” said Gatsas, referring to a discrepancy between the number of ballots cast on Election night in Ward 1 — 3,131 —and the number of votes counted during Monday’s recount, which was 3,157. Three of those votes went to Gatsas, the rest, to Craig
As of 5:20 p.m. that represented a 27 vote net bump for Craig, with Gatsas still ahead by 59 votes with four wards left to count — Wards 4, 6, 7 and 11).
By 6: 30 p.m. the final box of ballots was being counted, and right around 7 p.m. Alderman Bill Shea made the official announcement, that Gatsas held his lead, beating Craig by 64 votes — 10,085 for Gatsas and 10,021 for Craig.
“I think it goes to show the machines are pretty good,” said Gatsas after the final tally. “I’m going to get back to work now,” as he left to join the school committee meeting, already in session.
It was an all-day affair. The painstaking hand-count went methodically, box by box, ward by ward, with just a few votes shifting in the process. Trash cans brimmed with spent water bottles, crumpled Dunkin Donuts bags and empty take out containers.
Gatsas was keeping score like it was his job, with an array of papers spread out in front of him on the table where he sat for the entire recount. He pointed out at one point that, minus the 24 vote anomaly in Ward 1, Craig had only gained 3 votes.
Six counting stations were established with four people at each table — two appointed by the city clerk’s office and one selected by each candidate. The counters picked up each ballot and verbalized the name on the ballot as they saw it, and the “watchers” either accepted or challenged the vote.
Kathy Sullivan, who was on site serving as an attorney for Craig’s campaign, said the process, for her, underscores the importance of the paper ballot.
“I like paper ballots, and will always want them — some states, like Oregon, have gone to mail-only, and there’s always a push for electronic voting, but to me, this is the system that provides the checks and balances. You can always go back and count them,” Sullivan said.
In watching the process unfold Monday Sullivan said she saw several ballots come through that were discounted — many absentee ballots, which require a two-signature process, were not properly signed.
“I saw some absentee ballots that weren’t counted for that reason,” Sullivan said. “Another instance I saw was where someone had voted for Joyce Craig, and then underneath that, had written in Mickey Mouse. No vote was counted in that case because the person, although I’m sure they were just trying to be funny, invalidated their ballot by having two selections.”
Richard Lehmann, who was on location serving as attorney for Gatsas, said their biggest concern was the “glitch” in Ward 1.
He said Gatsas’ team appealed the 24-vote gain in the final tally, but that the recount board voted 2-to-1 not to allow the box to be reopened.
City Clerk Matthew Normand explained that the discrepancy was likely a miscount when the ballots were counted at the table.
However, Sullivan rejected the word “glitch,” pointing out that watchers for both candidates had observed the process and no one raised any concern at the time the votes were resealed in a box and certified as accurate.
“I told them they had the right to challenge the count at the counting table, but there was no protest. It wasn’t until a few hours later that Mr. Lehmann approached the clerk for a retabulation,” Sullivan said. “I told them once it’s been sealed and certified, they need to appeal that to superior court. They can’t ask the recount board to do that, and the recount board agreed with me on that.”
Lehmann said as soon as Gatsas’ team realized the 24 votes was extreme compared to the other ward recounts, they requested the votes for Ward 1 be retabulated.
“I guess they are viewing this as 12 separate recounts. We see it as one recount, and as long as it’s ongoing, the most important thing is to get the count right. The legal process is much less important,” Lehmann said.
Craig’s campaign manager Rahul Kale said his take on the Ward 1 bump was simply because it’s the ward with the largest turn-out, and it’s also Craig’s home turf, so it makes sense to him that if there were uncounted ballots, they would likely be in that ward and in Craig’s favor.
“Also, I know that Ward 1 and Ward 9 are two of the wards where the machines went down for a short time, so it’s possible that those votes just didn’t get counted the first time,” Kale said. “The fact that there have been changes shows that the recount was worth it. Regardless of the outcomes, at least we can say now that every vote counts, and has been counted.”
On election night Normand confirmed that tabulators in Wards 1, 5 and 10 went down for no more than 20 minutes in each ward, and that the tabulator in Ward 10 was not down for more than five minutes.
Counters and watchers stayed on task throughout the long process, only taking bathroom or coffee breaks between boxes, according to Jim Roy, who was serving as a “watcher.” Alderman Keith Hirschmann, who was taking turns as a “substitute watcher,” called the process “tedious.”
“But I think we’re up another two or three votes,” he said, shortly after 5 p.m.
Gatsas was present for the entire recount. Craig attended early on, but left around 9:30 a.m.
“At least this way everyone will know for sure, especially all those people who encouraged me to go ahead with the recount,” Craig said as she got into her car outside the Carol Rines Center just before 10 a.m. “I can’t sit there. I’m going grocery shopping.”
Following the recount, Craig issued this statement:
“Tonight, I want to congratulate Mayor Ted Gatsas on his re-election as Mayor of Manchester. I recently called Mayor Gatsas and wished him well on his next two years in office.
“This election was extremely close and I want to thank the City Clerk’s office for helping with the recount process. The initial results from November 3rd showed an 85-vote margin, and tonight’s recount resulted in votes gained for both candidates, now with a margin of 64 votes. The recount went smoothly and we can now ensure that every vote counted.
“I also want to thank all our volunteers, supporters, and the thousands of voters who came out to support our campaign.
“Although my campaign for mayor ended tonight, my commitment to our city, our community, and our families did not. In the coming weeks, I will have time to think about what comes next, but my commitment to making Manchester a greater city is far from over.”
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