By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY – The highly anticipated Amesbury mayoral recount will take place today at City Hall, where each of the 4,200 ballots cast will be counted by hand to determine the final results of the Nov. 5 election.
The recount is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the City Hall auditorium and will likely take most of the day to complete. Both candidates will be present, along with legal counsel and a team of observers, and the general public is welcome to attend as well.
The recount went into motion after Mayor-elect Ken Gray defeated four-term incumbent Mayor Thatcher Kezer 2,092 to 2,090, winning the Nov. 5 election by just two votes. Kezer immediately declared that he would seek a recount, and despite Gray’s insistence that he concede the race, Kezer submitted his recount petition last week and the date was scheduled.
“My whole effort is to get to the true numbers,” Kezer said. “When it’s this close it warrants a hand count.”
According to Kezer, there will be five counting tables where the ballots will be counted simultaneously, one district at a time. Each candidate will have an agent at each table overseeing the count, and both candidates will have the right to challenge any ballot that looks questionable.
“If any ballots are challenged, those ballots will be brought to the Registrars table and then they vote as to the determination of that,” Kezer said. “That’s where the lawyers come in and argue whichever way, and then the Registrars vote.”
The Board of Registrars includes Normand Pare, Robert Gaudet, William Croteau and City Clerk Bonnijo Kitchin. In the event there is a 2-2 vote by the board, the ballot will be counted as “called” by the ballot reader.
If either candidate or their attorney disagrees with the decision of the Registrars, the protested ballot will be put aside in an envelope, and at the end of the day, all of the ballots that were protested will be sent to a Massachusetts Supreme Court justice, who will then look at the ballots and make a final determination.
“Even though there may be a new tally at the end of the day on Thursday, given how close it is, there are still options for either side,” Kezer said. “Any unsettled ballots from this process will have to be decided at the court level.”
Both candidates are expected to have the maximum number of observers allowed in the recount area at any given time, and Gray said he plans on having more than 20 people at City Hall to rotate through in order to prevent fatigue.
Gray added that he also expects City Hall to be packed throughout the day by supporters of each candidate as well.
“I don’t know how many of my people will be there, but I expect a lot of people will,” Gray said. “This has been the talk of the town.”
If the final result of the election winds up being a tie, a special election would be needed to settle the issue once and for all. Both candidates said they would prefer it not come to that, and Gray said the whole situation is a testament to how important each individual vote can be.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me to say, ‘my two votes got you over the top,’” Gray said. “People now know that their vote mattered, and it’s a positive for the future that people realize how important their vote can be.”
Gray said he is confident the results will hold, despite the razor-thin margin separating him from Kezer. While it’s impossible to predict the results of the recount, there is precedent in Amesbury history to suggest that that a decisive number of votes may be swung.
Joseph Faro, who was defeated by David Hildt in the tightly contested 2001 mayoral election, participated in a recount after the original tally had him a couple dozen votes behind Hildt. While the recount didn’t overturn the result of the election, Faro did pick up eight votes in the process.
Reached by phone yesterday, Faro said that votes are difficult to pick up during a recount, but when it’s that close, you have to try. While eight votes weren’t enough to swing the election his way, it would make all the difference in the world for Kezer, he said.
“You have to have the recount,” Faro said. “You owe it to your constituents, you owe it to the voters and you owe it to the people who put signs on their lawn and sent you money.”