Shirley fields recount confirms question failed by 12 votes

Town Clerk Bill Oelfke reads out results of Tuesday’s Ballot recount, which mirrored election results. SUN/M.E. Jones
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SHIRLEY — A recount held Tuesday of the votes cast during the Sept. 28 special election on whether to levy a $7 million debt exclusion to pay for the Ayer Shirley High School fields improvement project confirmed the result: 751 no, 739 yes.

The recount by the Board of Registrars, which had duly posted it as a public meeting, was triggered by a petition with 20 validated signatures, only half of which were required as part of the process.

By the book, start to finish, the 1,590 ballots, stored in the Town Offices vault after the Sept. 28 election were carted to the main meeting room with an official escort that included the police chief, who stood by during the recount.

Left to right: Election workers (at table) Linda Cournoyer and Stu Cady. Looking on (l-r) are Ayer Shirley High School students Sierra Quinty and Justin Cullinan and, representing the petitioners, Bob Oestreicher. SUN/M.E. Jones

Divided into groups of 50, the ballots were handed off to election workers, paired off in twos. One of them read each ballot, yes or no, while the other checked it off on a tally sheet.

Finally, the tally sheets were checked against a “total tally” sheet at the registrars’ table.

The process took about an hour and a half.

It could have gone longer, Town Clerk Bill Oelfke said, based on whether representatives of either side of the issue spotted anomalies or discrepancies and raised objections, with both sides allowed to roam the room and stand by counters’ tables, looking on.

As it turned out, there were only a few questions, mostly minor.

In the case of a yes/no dispute, the ballot in question would go to the Board for review and a vote, Oelfke said, and that would be the last word. But there were none.

After the results were read, Registrar Bob Huxley said it was good to know that the town’s voting machines were accurate.

One of the pro-fields project petitioners behind the recount, Dina Samfield, basically said the same thing, adding that even so, it was “prudent” to call for a recount, since the difference was just 12 votes.

“We didn’t really expect a different outcome but with a vote that close, it didn’t make sense not to … ” she said. “If just seven no votes were actually yes votes,” it would have been a different story.