September 16, 2010

For Vote Counters, Deadlines Primary Concern

Town Clerk Denise Neale, left, and Town Moderator Margi Ives counting the write-in ballots.

Union Leader Correspondent

DERRY – A Derry Police officer tapped on Town Clerk Denise Neale's office window, which added an unnerving twist to an already tense situation.
“They wanted to know if we were still here,” said Neale, who was indeed still working on final vote tallies into the wee hours following Tuesday's primary election, trying to beat the clock set by the Secretary of State's office for this particular primary.
She explained yesterday that it all stems from the federal Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act, which mandates there be 45 days between a primary and general election. Because Labor Day fell later than usual in September, states had the option to change the date of their primary elections. New Hampshire opted not to make the change, which created a counting crunch for municipalities.
The trickle down effect is that every other election-related deadline is condensed – a historic first, said Town Moderator Margi Ives, who assisted with the counting marathon.
“It's trickle-down angst, the kind that goes from your head to your toes,” said Ives who, like Neale, was running on little sleep as they picked up where they left off early Wednesday morning.
Neale said she knew it was time to eat something when she literally fell asleep in the middle of counting write-in ballots.
Even after the results were sealed and delivered to police headquarters sometime after 3 a.m., Neale got a call that there was a state receipt form missing.
“It was a new form – one of the many changes we've been dealing with in this election,” said Neale yesterday, taking a Subway sandwich break while Ives recapped the post-election count, reminding Neale to chew her food carefully between bites.
“I know we have to hurry, but you need to chew your food,” said Ives.
Neale's sense of urgency prevailed over her chewing ritual – the clock was still ticking on its way to the next deadline. By 5 p.m. yesterday Neale had to record and fax all the write-in ballot information to the Secretary of State's office.
Neale said Derry was not the only town scrambling to meet the state's various deadlines.
“When we delivered our results to the police station this morning, they were still waiting on Pelham and Londonderry,” Neale said.
All the results – and any recounts – must be wrapped up by Friday so that general election ballots can be printed and mailed Saturday to fulfill the federal 45-day rule as it pertains to overseas and military absentee voters, Neale said.
There were other complications.
Of the 3,650 voters who made it to the polls Tuesday, many exercised the right to go rogue and write in a candidate, said Ives.
Mickey and "Mini" Mouse made the ballot this year.
She is not one to discourage electoral enthusiasm. But she has to draw the line at voters who wade into absurd territory – particularly in an election where every write-in vote must be counted and recorded manually.
“Look at this one – Mickey and Minnie Mouse are listed, only they spelled Minnie wrong,” said Ives, sorting through a hefty pile of ballots.
I swear, Mickey Mouse should win something, for all the times his name is on a ballot,” said Neale, noting that the fictional character was also nominated yesterday by someone for Executive Council.
Other notable but unrealistic write-ins included Michael Jackson for governor, and Donald Duck, “anybody else” and Al Dimrock for State Senate.
In that case, Neale surmised that the person who wrote Al Dimrock may have been referring to resident and town council meeting regular Al Dimmock. But there is no room for interpretation – and no recourse for bad penmanship, poor spelling or ignorance.
Does this say Frank Smird or Frank Smith?” Neale asked Ives on a ballot that also elevated Kelly Ayotte to a gubernatorial candidate and grossly misspelled John Stephen's name.
Yes, it's an unfortunate interpretation of Stephen,” said Neale, adding Frank Smird to the growing list of write-ins, just after Al Dimrock.
There were at least two write-in candidates who earned more than the minimum 10 votes to qualify for the general election ballot. In year's past, they would have been notified in writing by the secretary of state of their eligibility, and they would have had a number of days to file a declaration of candidacy.
Because of the truncated process, write-ins who want to be on the November ballot have until Friday at 3 p.m. to fax or e-mail their declaration of candidacy. Otherwise, they will be excluded.
I wonder how other towns are doing,” said Ives. “Everything is so different this time.”

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