Grafton officials discover 200+ uncounted ballots from June 23 elections

A poll worker counts previously misplaced ballots.

Close margin on budget override question could prompt total recount

By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Grafton – Results from the June 23 town election briefly came under question this month after officials discovered more than 200 completed absentee ballots had not been counted.

Though they ultimately did not change any election results, the ballots put a spotlight back on Grafton’s budget override ballot question more than a week after initial polling results showed the measure passing by a slim 98 vote margin.

“We recognize that the integrity of our election is of the utmost importance,” a town statement on the issue read.

According to town officials, Assistant Town Clerk Paul Cook discovered the misplaced ballots while doing other work in his office’s vault on June 30. On further investigation, he and Town Clerk Kandy Lavallee determined the ballots in question were all absentee ballots that should have been delivered on election day to Precinct 2 to be counted there.

Town legal staff immediately reached out to state election officials who, in turn, advised Grafton to seek a court order allowing them to reopen the already certified June 23 election results.

When that court order came July 1, officials convened a crew of poll workers to open the ballots in public the next morning as cameras live streamed the process via town public access TV.

“For maximum transparency…The public is welcome to attend,” the town’s press release added in preparation for that counting event.

As election workers hunched over piles of paper July 2, a small gathering of onlookers discussed the Proposition 2-1/2 measure, which town leaders had said that they needed to implement  to avoid massive layoffs and programming cuts.

At the same time, however, it’s a tax hit many locals are not happy about.

Due to the controversy, the ballot question set to settle the debate passed by just 98 votes according to the original count, June 23.

When 202 new ballots then emerged, this month, many were quick to point out that an overwhelming opposition could swing things. In reality, the ballots actually expanded the margin of “Yes” votes to 99.

As many express their frustrations over the ballot mishap online, Grafton officials understand the impact that this had had on public perception of their elections.

Thus, they say they’re implementing new standard operating procedures to avoid subsequent issues and already plan to bring in independent investigators to assess how this mistake happened.

“I take full responsibility [for this],” Lavallee said. “The upcoming investigation will help us to see what we need to do going forward.”

From here, election staff will have a chance to implement their new plans soon, in September’s state primary elections and in the presidential general elections in November.

Before those events even arrive, though, there may still be more developments in this municipal election.

Speaking as poll workers were counting votes June 2, Select Board Member Peter Carlson told the Community Advocate that he was aware of petitions on both sides of the override argument that could have demanded a recount if results didn’t go in petitioners’ favor.

Now that Proposition 2 -1/2 has, indeed, passed, it is unclear if override opponents plan to follow through with such a recount request.

“Every vote counts,” Carlson said. “We need people to come out and let us know how they feel.”