Although controversy has abounded in the months leading up to today’s election in Amherst, which includes a vote on a $67 million school building plan, Town Clerk Sandra Burgess said this morning that she fully expects ballot-counting will go smoothly.
It is of course unknown how many people will vote today, although the school building question, and contested seats on the Amherst Select Board, Amherst School Committee and Town Meeting may energize voters to participate in the purely local election. Burgess said she wouldn’t be surprised if total turnout reaches 20 percent.
Burgess said she is prepared for the unusual calculations that will need to be done on the school building question, which is a town-wide referendum seeking to overturn Town Meeting, which twice voted the project down. Two-thirds of all who vote today would be needed to flip the Town Meeting result, and according to a legal finding last week, the “Yes” tally also would need to equal 2,983, or at least 18 percent of Amherst’s 16,569 “active registered voters” when the last session of Town Meeting ended in January.
Ballots in Amherst are predominantly counted by machine, and once the machines print all tapes, Burgess said she will do the calculations unassisted. “I can do these numbers by myself,” she said.
Each of Amherst’s 10 precincts has one voting machine, Burgess said, and there are five spares in case of any malfunctions. Ballots rejected by the machines are hand-counted.
In the hotly-contested Presidential election last fall, which caused Amherst’s normally more-quiet elections to swell dramatically with college students, ballot-counting issues arose. Early-voting ballots that were accordion-folded for mailing became jammed in voting machines, and some ballots may have been mistakenly counted twice. The state, which randomly selects town elections for audit, audited Amherst’s Precinct 1, and then in agreement with Burgess, also audited Precinct 2. A link to the state report is here, and Burgess’s written statement is on page 10: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elepostelection/post-report-2016/Amherst%20Post%20Election%20Audit%20Report.pdf
Burgess said she doesn’t anticipate those problems in today’s much smaller election, although glitches can always arise, which then must be addressed. “I’m not saying there won’t be issues,” she said. Each precinct has an election warden and clerk, Burgess said, adding that she hoped to have eight election workers at each site, but numbers will likely hover closer to six, because of difficulty in recruiting workers.
“Not everybody is interested in doing it,” she said.
Burgess was reluctant to say when results will be available, but in the past, preliminary tallies have been posted in Town Hall outside the Town Clerk’s office after 9 p.m.