PELHAM — After a recount lasting nearly three hours yesterday, the vote totals changed slightly but the outcome remained the same: proposals to buy land and construct a new high school failed.
The recount was monitored by Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan and Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards, who said the attorney general's office was not investigating the original count. Both said they were invited to oversee the proceedings.
Superintendent Frank Bass asked the secretary of state's office to participate because of concerns about the original count, which he said took a long time to be calculated the night of Town Meeting.
Although the polls closed at 8 p.m., the results weren't received until 11:39 p.m., he said. Edwards said her office received several e-mails and phone calls about the vote.
"We're still unclear on what actually might have happened with the original count, except that some of the ballots might have been miscounted or mishandled," she said.
The votes might have been mixed with other ballots, she said.
She said when a voting machine has trouble reading a ballot — because a mark is too faint, for example — it kicks the ballot into a separate basket of votes that must be counted by hand. There was concern, she said, that when the machine was opened, those uncounted ballots were accidentally mixed in with counted ones.
About 40 people sat at tables in a cordoned off area in Pelham High School's library to recount the two warrant articles from the March 9 ballot. At each table sat four people, two counters and two observers. One observer at each table was opposed to the articles in question, while one was in favor.
Article 2, to purchase land for $2 million for a new high school, failed to earn the 60 percent vote it needed in the recount. The vote total was 2,776 for and 1,975 against — that's about 58.4 percent of voters in favor, Town Moderator Philip Currier said.
The original numbers reported the night of the election, which Bass said were "in dispute," were 2,770 for and 1,969 against.
For Article 3, to build the school for $37 million, the recount total was 2,787 for and 1,965 against — about 58.6 percent in favor, Currier said. On election night, the totals were 2,781 for and 1,959 against.
Currier conducted the recount rather than school district Moderator Kenneth Dunne. Currier declined to say why he was conducting the recount, but Bass said Dunne asked Currier to step in.
"I think the bottom line is that no one is concerned about any one individual," Bass said. "I think everyone realizes that this is a very big decision, and we want to make sure we get it right."
Scanlan said Pelham was one of the best recounts he has observed. The deputy secretary of state explained he was there to serve as a resource during the recount and to quell any suspicion.
"There was at least a perception that things didn't go as smoothly as they could have," he said.
But people should know things went smoothly last night, Scanlan said.
"They may not be happy with the results, but they should be sure of them," he said.
Any questionable ballots were reviewed by the Board of Recount, a board established by state law that is made up of the complete School Board, the moderator, and the school district clerk. Currier said examples of ballots they reviewed included one that was filled in so faintly it was probably not counted by the machine, and others where voters had not perfectly filled in the circle, getting some ink in another circle as well.
He said someone could still appeal the count, bringing the matter to Superior Court.
Mike Pietrillo, a resident in favor of the new school, said the recount would provide a final answer.
"Neither side can say anything. Here it is, this is it. Everybody that's important witnessed it," he said.
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