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Hope to analyze tally sheets from July 14 election

Select board takes attorney advice; debates destruction of ballots
By Daniel Dunkle | Feb 23, 2021

Hope — After receiving advice from an attorney, the Hope Select Board voted unanimously Feb. 23 to open the ballot box from the much talked-about July 14 election and review the tally sheets.

However, the actual ballots from the town meeting election must remain confidential.

On Feb. 19, Kristin Collins of PretiFlaherty, who had been hired by the Select Board to look into the issue, sent a letter to the town with her opinion concerning potential access to the ballots.

“I understand that there were several discrepancies noted in the tallies submitted by ballot counters following the July 14, 2020 municipal referendum election," Collins wrote. "There were 25 ballot questions on the referendum ballot. Although the majority of the questions showed tally counts totaling around 500 votes, tallies for certain individual questions ranged from 463 total votes to 548 total votes."

"...I do not believe there is any legal ability to access the ballots to compare them to the posted results," Collins said. "I do believe there is legal authority to access the tally sheets to see if they demonstrate whether or how errors may have been made in the counting process. At this point, six months past the election, my advice is to proceed with reliance on the election outcome. The information you may glean from tally sheets should be used as guidance to ensure against errors in the future, but probably could not be used to change the results of the election. However, if you do find evidence of extreme errors on the tally sheets, those issues should be brought to legal counsel for a more specific evaluation."

Vice Chair Brian Powers made a motion to open the ballot boxes to transfer the ballots to another container for destruction, as allowed under the law, and to make copies of the tally sheets from the box for review. He specified that this should be overseen by David Herrick, who has served as an interim town clerk, and that witnesses be present.

Select Board member Bruce Haffner asked, "Why are you so anxious to destroy the ballots?"

He proposed an amendment that the ballots not be destroyed until after the Select Board determines whether there were extreme errors on the tally sheets. There seemed to be consensus around putting off destruction of ballots until at least the Select Board meeting following the opening of the ballot box or boxes.

Select Board member Thomas Ingraham asked if they could seek further guidance from Collins as to what would constitute extreme errors.

Powers and Chair Sarah Ann Smith favored waiting to seek more guidance from attorneys until after they had looked at the tally sheets.

Haffner argued that the roads budget item on the July ballot was the only contested issue in the town. He said he had visited roads affected and talked to 70 residents to express his opposition to the town's roads budget. In particular, he wanted to see the town create its own public works team to handle snowplowing and argued the bidding process last year resulted in the town paying $500,000 more than it should.

Haffner said as many at 150 ballots might have disappeared. The figure is the difference between the number of ballots cast on state bond issues in the same election and those cast on the town budget items. Based on that, he argued 23 percent of the votes were affected.

He said that would constitute a stain on the Select Board in Hope.

Haffner had made a formal request Feb. 19 under the Freedom of Access Act to inspect ballots and tally sheets from the July 14 town election. He cited a letter from his attorney, Joseph Baldacci of Bangor, to argue the ballots are public documents.

Collins disagreed with Baldacci's argument that ballots are public records and said he was citing information from a legal opinion of justices in 1956.

Smith said the issue has taken up too much of the board's time considering that the election results cannot be changed. She and Powers expressed a desire to put the issue to rest.

Ingraham said it is important to provide the voters with confidence in the election process and show they are taking the issue seriously.

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