Inside the roped-off areas where ballot counting was being done at five different recounts last week, there were looks of determination, frustration and nervousness. Some were sweating, some pacing back and forth. Many took several opportunities to huddle with advisers and supporters to discuss strategy.
Of course, for the two candidates, Spencer’s Peter Durant and Charlton’s Geraldo Alicea, that was the place to be, as both fretted over an election that had left Durant the winner by just four votes. By the end of the recounts, however, Alicea would have whittled that lead down to a mere one vote – with a spoiled absentee ballot in his favor, should a Supreme Court Judge allow it.
Sometimes the proceedings were slow and tedious. Others, such as when lawyers were challenging a particular ballot – or when Durant’s attorney sparred briefly with a registrar over the absentee ballot – were nothing short of nail-biting.
Indeed, the recounts afforded an opportunity to get an up-close-and-personal look at the election process. They also should have left no doubt as to the importance of each and every vote.
For some, they served as an impetus to get involved.
North Brookfield’s Larry Buzzell, for example, was so enthralled with the process – he was at Wednesday’s recount in Charlton – he was driven to do more in the future.
“I’m so glad I did this,” he said. “I think I want to become one of the people sitting down. I’m going to look into it.”
Buzzell, who held signs for Durant on the campaign trail, said he was always into politics, but “I really got interested when [President Barack] Obama got elected.
For others, like state Rep. George Peterson, R-Grafton, took part as an observer for Durant, it was, in some ways, a learning experience. This particular race, he acknowledged, caught him by surprise.
“Peter was a little bit off our radar screens compared to some other [candidates],” he said. “I know how difficult it is to unseat an incumbent.”
Another onlooker, Mike Jaynes, who challenged Durant in the Republican Primary, felt for both candidates.
“I know if I was either of the candidates,” he said, “I would not be sleeping.”
Actually, neither has gotten much rest since the election, with both men acknowledging the toll it has taken on their respective families. Alicea has turned to his children for relief and has used the experience to help educate them.
“This has been a real-life civics lesson,” he said after the Spencer recount on Thursday.
Earlier that day, in Southbridge, Heleni Thayre was there on behalf of two organizations – MassVOTE and Massachusetts Citizens for Voting Integrity. She picked a good recount to attend, because Southbridge is the only town where voting totals change and several issues – such as missing ballot box seals, broken ballot boxes and seemingly magically appearing and disappearing ballots – arose.
“I think it’s fascinating,” she said of the process. “The issue about ballot boxes not having full integrity is interesting. It can be solved by stronger boxes [Town Clerk Maddie Daoust ordered five new ballot boxes the next day] and recording the numbers on the seals on Election Night.”
None of that, she noted, is in state law, “So every clerk has to figure out their own procedures. For example, the seals are only specified, as far as I know, as seals. They don’t say how to handle them.”
The recounts now over, the matter is headed to court before a clear winner can be named. For many who either took part in or watched them, the recounts themselves should be remembered as a vivid example of democracy in action – and the importance of every last vote.
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