|District Attorney Write-In Campaign Could Delay Results|
|By Tammy Daniels & Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:59AM / Monday, November 05, 2018
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — There are only a few local races on the ballot Tuesday and their outcomes won't take too long to tally up. Except one.
It's possible that full results for the Berkshire County district attorney might not be known until Wednesday — or even Thursday.
The election for Berkshire district attorney has had plenty of twists and turns but the biggest has been the decision by second-place Democratic primary finisher Paul Caccaviello to mount a write-in campaign against the party's nominee Andrea Harrington.
Harrington's name is the only one on the ballot but there's always a spot on the ballot for a write-in for each elected office. Just the number of write-ins could infer the winner (or loser) in the race before the counting is over.
City clerks say they're ready for what's expected to be a long night of hand-counting. It won't add too much time to the smaller towns that have always counted their ballots by hand but for the larger communities, it means thousands of ballots.
"We're not talking about 25 write-ins, we're talking about hundreds — hundreds per ward," said North Adams City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau. Her philosophy, she said, is to plan for the worst and get the best.
Gomeau's hired extra election workers to handle the counting and expects to be done around 11 p.m., three hours after the polls close. But, she says, a write-in of this potential magnitude isn't something she's seen as clerk.
There are always a few write-ins in local elections and some even win. In the past couple years, Ronald Boucher ran a last-minute write-in that won him a seat on the Clarksburg Select Board and a handful of voters thought enough of Rachel Branch to hand her an unexpected term on the McCann School Committee.
Caccaviello's campaign has been more intense in trying to educate voters on not only his run but how to vote for him.
Gomeau said she'll be considering the fact that the write-in campaign is known and the intent of the voter as each ballot is reviewed. And that's every ballot cast, not just ones that the optical scanning machine separates out as a write-in.
Some 21,000 ballots were cast countywide in the Sept. 4 primary; about double that is expected to be cast in the mid-term election, based on past turnout.
Still, Adams Town Clerk Haley Meczywor is expecting less than 2,500 ballots to be cast on Tuesday in her town. Just under 350 early voting and absentee ballots have already been submitted.
"We'll be here all Tuesday night until we've dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's," she said, adding that her staff had joked about spending the night in her office. "They're prepared. We will be looking for the voter's intent."
In Pittsfield, city officials say it could take days for the ballots to be reviewed, tallied, and recorded.
"I'm hopeful we will have a better idea by the end of the day Thursday," City Clerk Michele Benjamin said. "It's the same procedure as we always do, it is just going to be a high number of write-ins that will take time to record."
That isn't to say there won't be any results available Tuesday night. An unofficial vote total for Harrington in every precinct will be available as will the number of write-ins and blank ballots so if Harrington has more votes than those two combined, then she would win that particular precinct.
Gomeau and Meczywor said they, too, will be posting the machine tapes with the recorded number of votes. But both also cautioned that while the tape will show the record of write-ins, it won't be a confirmed tally.
"We won't know who was written in or if it was a blank," said Meczywor.
Voters using optical scanning machines have to pencil in the oval next to a person's name, including for the write-in lines. If the machine scans an oval filled in for a write-in, it directs the ballot into a separate slot inside the machine. But if the oval is not filled in, the machine records it as a blank.
"If they wrote the name in and didn't fill in the circle ... the machine would read it as a blank," Gomeau said. "So we look at all these ballots at the end of the night and we say, this person really took the time to write the name I think they mean to vote for them. ...
"We look at every single ballot at the end of the night."
In North Adams, securely locked bags will be set by each of the five ward machines at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center to store ballots divided out as write-ins (for any of the offices). Gomeau said the ballots will be removed and locked in the bags as the day goes on to prevent the write-ins from mixing with the regular ballots.
Benjamin said poll workers have been instructed to separate the write-ins for district attorney and record each name written. The poll workers are asked to write down the name exactly as is written on the voter's ballot. That work at each precinct means the books won't get back to City Hall until late at night.
On Wednesday morning, Benjamin will start the process of determining voter's intent and registering the write-in votes. Benjamin said if Caccaviello's name is spelled wrong but is close enough, it counts. But simply writing "Paul C" isn't enough.
Gomeau said she ran a class for election workers last week to know exactly what they're looking for and what to record.
"I just think it's going to be a long night," she said. "Is it going to be difficult? No. It's just going to be long."