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Key figures note value of recount

Michaiah Healy, Select Board candidate, 2020 photoHealy: 6,190

Lenard Diggins, Select Board candidate, 2020Diggins: 6,265

Is the June 6 town election, likely the most protracted in town history, finally over? Looks that way.

With the July 9 recount, the first since 1997, the numbers have been decided, but lessons learned continue.

The final counts show little change in votes. Of course, veteran Select Board member Diane Mahon topped out, at 6,680 votes. The recount confirmed Len Diggins's win, giving him 6,265 votes, two fewer than June 6. Michaiah Healy got 6,190. That was two more than in June, but it was still a loss.

The recount changed nothing for two Town Meeting seats, in Precinct 6 and 17.

Was the process worth it? Some of the key players involved were asked about that. Here are their responses, in full. You can decide the answer for yourself.

Healy

"Thank you for asking me to provide my thoughts on the value of a recount. This was an incredible learning experience for all involved that our town hasn't seen for years.

"With an election that was so close, separated by less than a 0.5 percent margin, given the new voting procedures with the pandemic, and hearing of inaccuracies after the vote had been checked, I felt the recount was worth the time and effort to ensure that everyone's vote was counted.

"Our trainers framed the recount as "Democracy in action." The participants in the room represented the community, exercising their free will to participate in this recount by observing every ballot cast was counted for what the voter intended.

"The training that both municipal workers and candidate observers received from state experts in election law was invaluable to our understanding of democracy and how the will of the voter is paramount. The integrity of the ballots was being checked against the accuracy of our electronic system -- and though the final count revealed minor changes, the differences between the official count of the precincts vs. the hand recount showed informative differences.

"As in all elections, but especially in this election, so many residents, departments and commissions collaborated to make this election more accessible and safe. Many people worked very hard to send mail-in ballots to those that requested them, and still dozens were undeliverable and/or spoiled. The most disheartening reality was that 224 ballots were received by the clerk's office too late to be opened and counted.

"I examined these ballots both for the postal date as well as the time/date stamp received by the office.

"Obviously, the pandemic has presented many challenges for how we safely conduct elections. I've been impressed by the community involvement and the work of municipal employees in restructuring how elections are planned and conducted. And we have more work to do to make sure that everyone who wants to vote is able to vote and that those votes are accurately counted.

"Numerous people have asked whether I'll run for office again. I am constantly looking for where my gifts intersect with the needs of the community. I hope that I have earned the respect of the community. I do my best to work with everyone, even if they have opposing views, to establish common ground.

"My focus is to reach out and lift up marginalized groups, to grow involvement, to seek out leaders, and to help decision makers in bridging cultural divides. If you want to talk more about these issues or what I've learned from this campaign and recount, email me at diversitytaskgrouparl at gmail.com or michaiahforselectboard at gmail.com."

Diggins

"So, I have been asked to discuss the value of seeking a recount.

"To the extent that a recount was necessary to give members of our community more confidence in the election results and the integrity of our election process, then the recount served its purpose. If one (such as I) were content with the initial official results and the process that led to them, then there was little value in seeking a recount. If, however, one had lost by a seemingly small margin and had questions about the process, then understandably seeking a recount would be a valuable recourse.

"Now, that's a technical answer that stays within the literal bounds that I was asked to discuss, and it's probably not very satisfying by itself; so, I will go outside of the bounds and add the following two points:

"1. The fact there was less than a 3-percent spread among all three candidates tells me that the residents saw us all as essentially more similar than different. In my opinion, the differences that exist are differences of approach more than anything else. Rather than seeing deep schisms with respect to our fundamental values, I see passionate advocacy for various courses of action that drive us toward the same ultimate goal of equality and the pursuit of happiness for all. In any case, I want to make it clear that I am open to input from everyone -- especially if it is offered in a friendly and respectful manner.

"2. The recount did provide an opportunity to get some insights into voting patterns. I didn't get a complete data set, and my analysis is still very preliminary, but it appears that relatively few people voted only for me and that the pairings between myself and the other two candidates were evenly split. I am happy to see so little 'bulleting' for me, because I very much wanted those who supported me to take advantage of both of their votes.

"If indeed any of my supporters really didn't want to vote for either of the other two candidates, I respect that. However, I would prefer to win in a close election in which there is a high turnout and the vast majority of people are using both of their votes than to win in a blowout in which there is a low turnout and/or lots of strategic bulleting for me. Thankfully, the former was the case To me, winning isn't everything; 'playing the game,' for lack of a better phrase, in a dignified manner in which I can be proud is what matters most.

"Onward into a very challenging future we go!"

Elizabeth Dray

Representing Arlington Fights Racism, the citizen group that supported a slate of candidates, she was asked about the value of the recount as well as whether the group might share in the cost.

"The state does not allow cities and towns to take payment from candidates for recounts as it could be viewed as a form of voter collusion or conflict of interest. This information is easily accessible to anyone who is truly interested in speaking from a factual foundation.

"Arlington Fights Racism appreciates the work that the town put into the recall, especially the clerk's office and all those who participated in the recount. Arlington Fights Racism is glad to see that the democratic process was observed and that any problem areas were highlighted as needing attention for the upcoming September and November elections."

Town Meeting

Laura Kiesel, a Precinct 6 Town Meeting write-in candidate, did not respond to a request for comment. In a post on the Arlington email list July 10, she wrote:

"They found four additional votes for me, but they were accidentally written for the one-year term rather than 3-year term so could not be counted. I think they also found another 2 votes for the other write-in contender that had not been counted in the appropriate 3-year slot; Collins maintained the seat."

Kiesel received 24 votes in the official returns June 6, and that number dropped in the recount to 13. In Precinct 17, Xavid Pretzer had 167 in the official June 6 count, and that number was the same in the recount.

Town Clerk Juli Brazile said the recount involved 24 election workers, a recount coordinator, Assistant Clerk Janice Weber, herself, three registrars, three attorneys, four candidates and about 35 observers brought by the candidates. Counting at Town Hall began about 10:30 a.m. After the first couple of hours, the number of observers dropped, because those involved were counting only the Select Board race.

Recounting ballots ended around 5 p.m., and most of the observers and workers left. There were other documents for the registrars to review, and the final tally came in about 7 p.m. "It went fairly smoothly despite counting multiple races for the first two precincts," she wrote.

She plans to provide an estimate of costs.

Registrars John Worden and William Logan were joined by a third member, Lucia Caetano, a Republican, confirmed by a 3-0 Select Board vote July 7. Mahon and Diggins recused themselves.

Arlington last held a recount in 1997, after the vote to build seven schools lost by 16 tallies. After a recount, the difference in the vote was 32.


June 19 to July 10: Hand recount confirms Select Board, Town Meeting results of June election

June 14, 2020: Citizen group aids candidates in seeking recount; plea received
June 7, 2020: New faces elected to town boards after added 2 months of contention
Dec. 4, 2019, through June 6, 2020: 2020 town election background 


This series of viewpoints was published Wednesday, July 15, 2020. 

Town of Arlington to LGBTQIA+ students: You belong
 

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