By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — With a race between two write-in candidates for District 2 city councilor and nearly a dozen vacancies in the city’s other races, City Clerk Bonnijo Kitchin is expecting a long election night counting write-in ballots.
To help make election night flow more smoothly, Kitchin is imploring both candidates and voters to follow proper write-in procedures so that votes can be counted in a timely and accurate manner.
“We may end up having more write-in ballots than regular ballots, which is very extraordinary,” Kitchin said. “We have never had more write-ins than regulars, but we could, because we have so many vacancies.”
The highest profile write-in election figures to be the District 2 city councilor race, in which former Councilor Mary Chatigny and lifelong resident Mary Louise Bartley are vying to succeed incumbent Christian Scorzoni.
Scorzoni had been running unopposed in his bid for re-election, but he was forced to drop out of the race after his family sold their house and will be moving out of district. Scorzoni will no longer be eligible to retain his seat, but since the announcement came after the official withdrawal deadline, his name remains the only one on the ballot.
There is also one vacancy on the School Committee, three on the Planning Board, five on the Library Board of Trustees and two on the Housing Authority, all of which will likely be filled by write-ins as well.
Chatigny and Bartley have each indicated that they will be running sticker campaigns on Election Day, in which voters will be able to attach a sticker with the candidate’s name to their ballot. Kitchin said all stickers should be 21/4 inches wide by 1/4 inch tall, and the candidate’s name should be straight across with the address in smaller letters beside it so it all fits on one line.
She also stressed that residents who cast write-in votes or use a sticker have to remember to fill in the circle next to the write-in spot on the ballot; otherwise, the machine won’t recognize the ballot as a write-in and instead will sort it into a pile with the rest of the non-write-in ballots.
“What happens is when you put your ballot into the machine, if any of those write-in sections has a circle in it, it reads the whole ballot except for that one section, and when it goes through the machine, it flips it into a side of the ballot box that’s for write-ins only,” Kitchin said. “If the sticker is on it, but there is no circle filled, it goes straight in and drops into the part of the ballot box where all the rest of the ballots are.”
Kitchin said she and her team are going to sort through all of the ballots at the end of the night to make sure any write-ins not counted initially are included in the final tally, but the more ballots that are filled out correctly, the sooner they’ll be able to announce the final results.
The preponderance of write-ins is not expected to affect the counting of the city’s other contested races, and the results of the mayoral race and the other City Council races should still be announced minutes after the polls close at 8 p.m.
Kitchin said she doesn’t know how long it will take to count all the write-ins, but she would have the results posted on the city’s website by the end of the night.
“As soon as we finish the write-ins, we’ll have them available,” she said.
Seeing that the situation with Scorzoni is unprecedented in Amesbury’s history since adopting a city form of government, Kitchin said she had to seek clarification about how the election would operate.
Kitchin said that according to the City Charter, Chatigny or Bartley would win the election outright if they tally the most votes, but if Scorzoni gets the most votes, it would be considered a failure to elect since he isn’t eligible to accept the seat.
If that were to happen, the newly elected council would declare the seat vacant during their organizational meeting in January, and if there is a write-in candidate who received at least 30 percent of the vote, they could be appointed immediately.
“If there is no candidate with 30 percent of the vote, then they’ll declare that seat vacant, publish it for a month, and ask for applications from anybody wanting to be on that seat,” Kitchin said. “So both candidates could apply, and other people could too if they wanted. Then the council at a future meeting would appoint someone to the seat themselves.”
If the election were to play out this way, then the makeup of the next council would likely determine which candidate is selected.
“It basically would probably be determined by the rest of the election and how that fell,” Kitchin said.