HAMPDEN, Maine — The Maine attorney general’s office informed Hampden officials this week that the November 2011 Town Council election was valid and ballot mistakes did nothing to call election officials’ integrity into question.
“This five-month experience has been tough for the town clerk and election officials, but this is certainly a validation for them and much-welcome news after they’d had to operate under a dark cloud,” said Town Manager Susan Lessard.
The review was conducted by Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner and released to town officials in an email Tuesday. Gardiner’s conclusion ended as follows:
“The errors that occurred were not of sufficient magnitude to affect the outcome of the District 2 election. Moreover, the results of this review do not reveal reasons to question the integrity of the town’s election processes going forward.”
Some Hampden residents voiced objections and concerns at town meetings after it was determined that five local ballots for the Town Council election were not cast. Town Clerk Denise Hodsdon’s review determined that 2,549 voters signed in and received ballots, but while 2,549 state election ballots were returned, only 2,544 Town Council ballots were returned.
Another voting problem involved an undetermined number of voters in District 2 accidentally being given District 1 ballots. The two districts had different Town Council candidates running against each other.
“While it is extremely unfortunate that any voters were given the wrong ballots in the town’s election last fall, human errors do occur in the election process in spite of the detailed procedures set forth in the state statute and the training and best efforts of election officials,” Gardiner wrote in her report. “The recount process avails candidates of an opportunity to check the election night results by hand-counting the ballot and reviewing related election materials. That opportunity was utilized in this case, and the recount appears to have been done correctly.”
Hodsdon said the review’s completion is welcome news to a town staff that has been beleaguered by several issues of contention, from the election results to the town’s comprehensive plan and the sale of Hampden Academy to the town.
“To have an independent investigation and have the report come back is validation that we are doing things well here,” said Hodsdon. “As a town clerk, your integrity is what you have and when that’s called into question, and people are accusing you of trying to sway an election, you do get down in the dumps.”
Lessard is optimistic that the resolution of the election controversy will allow the Town Council and staff to proceed with other pressing business.
“The group that took this to the AG’s office, asking for an investigation, got one,” Lessard said. “I was very pleased, but certainly not surprised by the outcome. I have every faith that our election officials had done their best to operate a legal and valid election.”
Hodsdon, who grew up in Hampden, said she wasn’t the only town staff member upset over some accusations and complaints from fellow residents over town election officials’ honesty.
“You try to be as positive as you can be day to day, but it weighs on you a bit when you wonder who’s out there who questions your character,” said Hodsdon, who estimates she has presided over 25 to 30 elections in her 11 years as town clerk. “After some time, though, I came to realize there are fewer of those people than I initially thought.
“I welcomed the investigation. I really did, because I knew what the outcome would be. Hopefully the people asking for an investigation will accept this and move on.”