At the start of the day, Marty Cohen was only four votes away from keeping his seat on Belmont’s town meeting after serving on the town’s legislative body for 39 consecutive years.
And over two hours in the spacious Town Hall auditorium, as a small army of volunteer town election officials viewed each ballot cast in Precinct 3 on April 1 at the annual Town Election, Cohen sat quietly hoping that the day’s recount would see him overcome fellow Precinct 3 representative David Chase’s three-vote margin of victory, 323 to 320, for the 12th and final precinct seat.
“I wouldn’t have asked for one if not for the discrepancy in the count,” said Cohen, referring to the difference between the ballots placed into the optical-scanning voting machine and the number from election officials checking off names in the precinct book of registered voters.
It was a small number – less than five ballots – but enough that Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said she would support Cohen’s request for a second look at the votes cast.
The recount, the first in about a dozen years, was run by the four-member Board of Registrars of Voters under rules specified under state law. Cushman, who along with assistant Town Clerk Meg Piccione and staff member Nancy Casale, assisted the 14 volunteers on how to read each ballot, which to deem “blank” (fore instance, a voter selecting more than the 12 votes they are limited to) and those that would require a vote of the Board to decide.
What the readers would be seeking “is the intent of the voters,” Cushman told the voters.
The box holding the paper ballots was opened, the votes placed into piles of 50 and brought to tables where a pair of volunteers recorded each valid vote cast in the third.
“Let the games begin,” said Cushman as red pencils and rulers began counting and recording as observers hovered close by to view the recount.
When the recount finished and the numbers tabulated, the new vote count came out in favor of Cohen … but by not enough. The second look total gave Chase 324 votes to Cohen’s 323, a margin of a single vote deciding the last representative from Precinct 3.
“The voters have spoken,” said Cohen who went over to Chase to chat a while on if he should run next year.
“I feel so bad for Marty. It doesn’t feel like a victory,” said Chase, who has been on Town Meeting for approximately 15 years.
As for the recount process, Cushman had no complaints.
“Everything worked out well. I want to thank my staff and the volunteers for the work they did,” she said.