By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — With all ballots and votes accounted for, Mayor-elect Ken Gray has begun his transition into office and is calling for Mayor Thatcher Kezer to concede the race.
City Clerk Bonnijo Kitchin said all ballots have been counted and Gray’s two-vote victory will be considered final unless a recount determines otherwise. She said any absentee ballot received would be rejected for being too late, and all overseas ballots were received by Election Day and included in the tally.
Gray won by a 2-vote margin in Tuesday’s election, 2,092 to 2,090. The results won’t be certified and made official until after Nov. 15 at 5 p.m.
Kezer has said he will contest the results and has already begun raising money and collecting signatures to do so. A date for the recount has not yet been set, as there are several steps that must be fulfilled before the actual count takes place.
Gray said that as painful as it might be, the best thing for Amesbury would be for Kezer to gracefully step aside. Gray argues that dragging out the process would further divide the community at a time when it needs to be united.
“You can see it on the message boards and blogs, everything is lighting up. It’s not good, and I can’t stop it, but he can,” Gray said. “I understand it; if I were in his position, I’d be anguished, but at some point you’ve got to rise above it.”
Gray said that despite the close outcome, he is confident the results will stand in a recount due to the high accuracy rate of the optical scanning technology used in Amesbury’s voting system. He has already begun reaching out to people in town who can help ease the transition so that when he takes office in January, he can hit the ground running.
“I’m going to put a team together as soon as I can, we’re identifying people I want to reach out to, and I want to bring in some people who were opposed to me too,” Gray said. “I want to get everyone on board, articulate what the goals for the transition are and we’ll get started as soon as possible.”
Responding to the confusion that gripped the public in the days following the election, Kitchin explained that the reason why the unofficial results posted on the city website were different than the initial numbers read off the machine ticker is because the electronic results did not include hand-counted ballots or write-ins. In the initial results, Gray won by 8 votes, but that margin slipped to 2 after the hand-counted votes were tabulated.
Kitchin said tallying write-in ballots and hand-counted ballots not accepted by the machine is a normal election night process that most people never notice, because usually the margin of victory is big enough that a couple of votes make no difference.
She said a common reason why the machine wouldn’t accept a ballot is because the voter filled out too many circles in a race with multiple seats. For instance, someone may have voted for four of the councilor at-large candidates when you can only vote for three, or someone may have filled in too many write-in candidates for the Planning Board or the Library Board of Trustees.
When that happens, the machine spits the ballot out and it is put aside until the end of the night, when it is counted by hand and added to the total.
Explaining the 18-vote difference between the number of people who voted for Gray and Kezer (4,182) and the total number of people who cast votes in the election (4,200), Kitchin said there were five write-in votes for mayor and 13 blanks.
In total, Kitchin said there were 1,114 ballots cast in Tuesday’s election that included at least one write-in vote, or 26.5 percent of all ballots. This was the main reason why it took so long for the unofficial results to be posted on the city website, she said. The bulk of those write-in votes were cast for open seats on the Planning Board, School Committee and the District 2 city councilor.