MACHIAS, Maine — A recount Thursday of the votes cast in a special election Monday resulted in an identical outcome, with two of the three candidates for a single selectman’s seat separated by just one vote.
Cony Upton received 54 votes to Stephen Smith’s 53, and Upton was sworn in immediately as selectman. He will fill the seat vacated after the death of Norman Nelson until June elections. A third candidate, Edward Pellon, received 39 votes, and there was a single write-in vote for Allen Devericks.
About an hour after the recount, Smith conceded, notifying Upton and Board of Selectman Chair Aubrey “Skip” Carter by telephone. He said he would run again in June.
The recount, which lasted about an hour and a half, was held at the town office in front of the selectmen, town manager, town attorney, the three candidates and a handful of spectators. Town Clerk Sandra Clifton unsealed the box containing the votes from Monday’s election and then, holding up each pink ballot so the candidates could inspect them, called out the name checked on each. She also held up and verified all unused ballots.
Clifton explained that besides the ballots cast for the three candidates, there was one write-in ballot, one blank and one not accepted.
The unacceptable ballot belonged to a local businessman who is not a U.S. citizen yet but who came to the polls twice on election day and voted twice. The man, who does not speak English, believed he was voting on behalf of his wife and mother-in-law, who are both citizens, explained Clifton. “I don’t believe there was any intention on his part to cast an illegal vote,” Clifton said. “I believe he thought he was voting for his wife.”
The first absentee ballot he cast bore a legitimate name and signature, Clifton said. That name was on the town’s voting list, and Clifton accepted the ballot. The name, however, later was discovered to be the man’s wife’s, not his, and it was determined by Tuesday that the man was not a U.S. citizen.
Clifton said the man left the polls at midmorning, came back in the afternoon and approached a different clerk with another absentee ballot. He then voted again, this time using his mother-in-law’s name. Because the entire family is Chinese, it was not immediately clear to the clerks that the man was using a woman’s name. Before that second ballot was accepted, the man was asked for identification. He left, supposedly to get his passport, but did not return.
“In the end, he voted on two ballots with two different names right in front of the staff,” Clifton said. The second ballot never was accepted and was segregated from the counted ballots. But Clifton said the first ballot was already in with all the other ballots in the ballot box, and “we have no way of knowing which was his.”
Attorney Richard Talbot was on hand to assist the town Thursday and said that even though there is clearly one ballot counted that does not meet election standards, he felt that was not fatal to the election process. “But it is certainly a concern for us all, because we cannot know for certain if the election would have remained unchanged or would have been a tie,” Talbot said.
Talbot determined that Clifton and clerk Susan Spencer followed all correct procedures according to state law, which required her to compare the signature on the ballot and the voter registration card and write the date and time on the absentee ballot. She did both. “There was no technical error in the process by the clerk,” he said. “This is a very unusual situation.”
After the afternoon recount, Upton was sworn in as a selectman.
Later in the day, Smith conceded his loss and said that since a regular election will be held in just four months, he has chosen to run then. Smith had been contemplating seeking a declaratory judgment in court based on the illegal vote that was cast. If he won, the verdict could have forced a new election. “But I don’t want to put the town through that expense,” he said.