Londonderry voters on Tuesday, March 8 will see a slightly amended ballot following a proofreading error made in the elected officials section.
There are three candidates and three open library trustee positions, but the ballots were printed stating that voters were to choose not more than two of the candidates.
According to town manager Kevin Smith, the cost for running new, corrected ballots was unjustifiable at more than $1,000. Instead, each ballot has been marked up, with the “two” replaced by a handwritten number “3.”
“In the grand scheme of things, this is really a small deal in that even if the ballot wasn’t corrected, assuming every voter didn’t vote for the same two people” – which he termed a very unlikely scenario – “while it states vote for not more than two, all three candidates would still be elected regardless of how many votes each of them received,” Smith said. “That said, I believe the solution remedies the problem.”
New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said that while the state does not have control over town votes, the phone in Concord typically “rings off the hook” in the lead up to the March election with concerns from town leaders and questions on how to fix errors.
Proofreading errors are a fairly common occurrence, said Scanlan, noting that for example, names are often spelled wrong.
While he said the state could not force any changes, when municipalities seek information, his office can offer advice. In the Londonderry situation, the first thing that a town ought to do is contact legal counsel, he said.
If the error leads to complaints from voters or candidates, legal counsel is going to have to defend the action, and thus should fully understand the mistake and sign off on any corrections made.
Second, said Scanlan, the best course of action is to reprint the ballots, if time and resources permit. But if that option is deemed unworkable, there are provisions in election law that go back years and years that allow for “pasters” or stickers covering the error with a correction.
These can’t be used with modern voting machines, however, as they gum up the works. So Londonderry’s choice of physically making a correction is the option left to election officials.
But it’s important that all changes are uniform, said Scanlan. It is inappropriate for any ballot to be distinguishable from its peers.
Asked to weigh in on the Londonderry matter, Scanlan said any harm from this mistake is small, but there are similar issues that could cause major harm to an election.
According to the Londonderry Town Charter, it is the town clerk’s responsibility to prepare the ballots. In Chapter I, section 2.6 Preparation of Ballots, the charter reads, “The Clerk shall prepare separate ballots to be used at all local referenda and at elections at which Town officers are chosen.”
Some have noted concern that this mistake is the second election-related one this cycle, the first an omission of the Treasurer as an open position during the filing period, leading to the position having to be filled by write-in.
Town clerk Sherry Farrell said she was confident that the correction on the library trustees would work for voters and noted that the state was comfortable with the fix and the election should go off smoothly regardless.
Farrell agreed with Smith that the issue was a minor one in the scheme of things. Asked about how the mistake occurred, she said many good people work behind the scenes to put an election together, but there were opportunities for such missteps.
Farrell said those focusing on blame were not focused on the important things or the larger picture of quality town work in Londonderry.
The ballot that appears on page 16 is a corrected version but is not what voters will receive at the polls. That version will have a hand-written correction of the library trustees candidates.