By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Mayor-elect Ken Gray and Mayor Thatcher Kezer are preparing for a recount in a close election that yesterday morning became razor-thin close.
The initial tally showed that Gray won by 8 votes, but the difference later shrunk to just 2 votes when a handful of ballots were tallied that the electronic counter missed.
The unofficial totals posted by the city clerk’s office yesterday put Gray at 2,092 votes and Kezer at 2,090 votes, and Kezer indicated that he would seek a recount after the initial results were read at the Amesbury High School cafeteria.
The first tally released Tuesday night showed Gray winning with 2,088 votes to Kezer’s 2,080, a slim 8-vote margin of victory.
After the electronic tally of votes was completed, election clerks handcounted ballots that did not scan properly. Kezer tallied an additional 10 votes, while Gray won another 4 votes. That trimmed Gray’s lead to just 2 votes.
“By asking for a recount, we can validate the results to determine that no ballot was missed,” Kezer wrote in a blog post to supporters yesterday morning. “If the results hold, then we begin the transition. If the results change, we work to complete the great projects we have started and continue Amesbury’s progress forward.”
Kezer has been raising money to hire a lawyer to represent him in a vote recount and soliciting the signatures he needs to file with the city clerk.
According to City Clerk Bonnijo Kitchin, Kezer has until 5 p.m. on Nov. 15 to return the necessary forms, including at least 10 valid signatures from each district he would like to contest. During Tuesday’s election, Kezer was beaten in Districts 1 and 5 but won Districts 2, 3 and 6. District 4 was a tie. Kezer said he is in the process of gathering necessary paperwork for a recount and intends to contest all six districts.
Once the forms have been returned, the signatures will be certified by the Board of Registrars, and then they will meet and determine when and where the recount will take place. Both candidates will then be given at least three days written notice.
The cost to taxpayers for a recount would be about $4,000 to $5,000. In addition to paying police officers to oversee the recount, additional workers would have to be hired, as all votes are counted by hand, Kitchin said.
“It would be a citywide recount, so we’d need a reader, a tabulator and runner for each district, so that’s a minimum of three people per district; then we’d have to have a secretary to record if there were any challenges,” Kitchin said. “We’ll also need police officers, and then probably a couple of people for crowd control.”
Each candidate will be allowed to witness the recount, accompanied by one or more counsel if desired, and each candidate may also be represented by “agents,” up to one for each officer or clerk reading the ballots or recording the votes, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
These agents must be appointed by the candidate or counsel in writing and have the right, along with the candidate and counsel, “to watch and inspect the ballots, tally sheets and all other papers used in the recount, and to watch every individual act performed in connection therewith.”
The general public may also witness the recount, but must remain outside of the recount area while the recount is under way, the Secretary of State’s office said.
Ballots protested during the recount will be counted in accordance with the decision of the majority of the Board of Registrars. If there is a 2-2 vote by the board, the ballot will be counted as called by the ballot reader.
The board’s members are Kitchin, Normand Pare, Robert Gaudet and William Croteau.
The recount will include counting all ballots cast for all the candidates for mayor, blanks cast, all spoiled and unused ballots, and absentee ballot envelopes and applications.
Once the recount begins, Kitchin said she expects it to be finished by the end of the day.
Gray’s 2-vote margin of victory is not the only time a mayoral election in Amesbury has been decided by a handful of votes. In 2001, David Hildt beat Joseph Faro by only 18 votes, finishing with 2,167 votes to Faro’s 2,149.
A recount also occurred in that race, and Kitchin said it took about six hours to complete. Kitchin was unable to provide information about whether a significant number of votes was changed, since she wasn’t the city clerk at that point, but she did say that in a 2005 recount in the library trustee race, each of the candidates saw their vote totals increase or decrease by one to three votes, but no more.
“Usually the machine count pretty closely stays the same, so it’s all interpretation over whether a write-in might’ve been missed,” Kitchin said.
According to police Chief Kevin Ouellet, the ballots were escorted by police back to City Hall immediately after they were counted Tuesday night. Once there, they were placed under lock and key in what he described as a “separate room” from the clerk’s office, where they remain.
The following is a breakdown of district results: District 1, Gray, 418, Kezer, 360; District 2, Kezer 354, Gray, 332; District 3, Kezer, 412, Gray, 349; District 4, Gray, 286, Kezer, 286; District 5, Gray, 382, Kezer, 345; District 6, Kezer, 333, Gray, 325.
For more information about recount procedures, visit the Secretary of State’s website at https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elerct/rctidx.htm.