Clerks say write-in campaign for DA means long night of counting Tuesday

There was a steady stream of voters Friday in Great Barrington for the last day of early voting. Several communities plan to have additional poll workers on hand Tuesday to count anticipated write-in votes for the Berkshire District Attorney race.

Veteran municipal clerks say a candidate seeking write-in votes from Clarksburg to Sheffield is unprecedented in recent memory, as voters gear up to settle the Berkshire District Attorney race Tuesday.

Several communities plan to have additional poll workers on hand to count anticipated write-in votes.

Clerks anticipate a long night, but couldn't predict when they would have final city and town results. Typically, cities and towns with machines that electronically scan ballots can announce unofficial tallies as early as 20 minutes after polls close, provided that there are few, if any, write-in votes.

"In my 30 years of doing this, this is the first time we've had a contested write-in campaign, and it's countywide and well-organized," said Williamstown Town Clerk Mary Kennedy.

"I've been town clerk for 25 years and never had one," said Cheshire Town Clerk Christine Emerson.

While the name of Democratic candidate Andrea Harrington is the only one that appears on Tuesday's ballot for district attorney, the man who holds the post, Paul Caccaviello, decided to mount a write-in campaign after losing the party primary Sept. 4 to Harrington by about 700 votes. Judith Knight finished third in the three-way race. Republicans didn't field a candidate.

In the primary, Harrington dominated in South Berkshire, winning 10 communities, including Great Barrington, where Caccaviello was a distant third, with 190 votes to Harrington's 607 and Knight's 551.

Harrington also scored wins in North Adams and Williamstown, the latter with a 600-vote differential over Caccaviello, who finished third.

Caccaviello took Pittsfield, Dalton, Lee, Lenox and Adams, but only Pittsfield and Dalton were triple-digit victories for Caccaviello, where he won by 630 and 277 votes, respectively, over Harrington.

Write-in process

The office of Secretary of State William Galvin, which oversees Massachusetts elections, says voters writing in a candidate's name must do so in the space provided for that race on the ballot. Voters should write in the name of the candidate and fill in the oval if marking an electronically scanned ballot.

"If they don't spell it right, that's OK," said Great Barrington Town Clerk Marie Ryan. "But just to put 'Paul C.' — that's not good enough. You can't count something that says 'Paul C.' "

Galvin and local elections officials note that there is room for error.

"Courts have ruled that a vote should be counted whenever the intent of the voter can reasonably be determined ... or makes a mistake in the name or address," according to Galvin's website.

Voters are allowed to bring with them into the voting booth the correct spelling of a write-in candidate's name and how to fill out the ballot. But they can't share that with other voters or leave the information behind.

Poll workers are expected to do regular sweeps of voting booths to ensure that no material is left behind that could influence the vote.

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Basically, voters are on their own.

"I've instructed the poll workers they can't tell voters who is the write-in candidate, what office it's for and how to spell the name," said Pittsfield City Clerk Michele Benjamin.

Benjamin noted that a letter or two of a name can be missing. For clerks, it comes down recognizing the intent of the voter.

Caccaviello and his campaign workers have been handing out cards throughout the county explaining how to cast a write-in vote.

Elections officials remind all candidate supporters on Election Day that campaign materials, including stickers, cannot be distributed within 150 feet of the polling location.

Placing a sticker with the candidate's name on the ballot is also allowed, but can gum up the works.

"I'm glad this isn't a sticker campaign, because they can get caught in the machine," said Dalton Town Clerk Deb Merry.

Added staff

Dalton, Williamstown, Lenox and North Adams are among the Berkshire municipalities beefing up staff at the polls Tuesday, anticipating a long night.

"I had to put on some extra people in the evening when we close to help with the tallying of the write-ins, which we've never done before," said Marilyn Gomeau, city clerk in North Adams, who has served for 15 years.

In Pittsfield, Benjamin isn't adding counters, but she, like most of the clerks, held additional training for poll workers on how to handle a write-in campaign on Election Day.

Once the polls close Tuesday, tabulators will go through the ballots and record all the write-in votes.

For communities with ballot scanners, the machines don't read the names, just the oval marked next to the space. The ballots must be read manually, sorted according to each candidate's name and then sealed. Whether a write-in vote is valid isn't challenged at the polls; only during a recount.

"I'm little nervous about a recount," Emerson said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.