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Candidate questions Hawley election results

HAWLEY — After losing a selectman’s race by six votes, Hussain A. Hamdan is not only asking for a recount but is contesting the election itself.

“We have reason to believe, and do believe, that the records of the votes cast for office ... given at the election ... are erroneous,” says the petition filed by Hamdan and signed by 10 voters in this town of 337 residents.

Among the allegations made in an attachment to Hamdan’s petition is that:

∎  One election officer “participated in a matter in which a reasonable person would conclude she had a bias.” Hamdan said Kathryn “Trina” Sternstein is a cousin of Selectman John Sears, who won the election by a 77 to 71 vote. Hamdan called Sternstein “a vocal supporter” of Sears.

∎  Three absentee ballots were cast by people who did not meet “legal criteria for being registered voters of the town of Hawley” on May 5, the day of the annual election, according to Hamdan.

∎  Two voting lists — one used by election officers who give ballots to the voters, and the other used by election officers who oversee placement of ballots into the ballot box — were inconsistent. Hamdan claims the two lists differ in terms of the names checked off. “We therefore contest both of these lists, used independently or in concert, as being valid in establishing how many people and who voted,” says the petition.

He also questioned the voting lists, “on the grounds that they do not record, as having voted, certain persons who, according to accounts we have received, did in fact vote.” Hamdan added he is “investigating the merit” of those accounts. (He did not give the names of those alleged voters.)

Hamdan further questioned the lists because neither one showed that Sears’s wife, Jane Myers, voted, although she has voted in past elections and was seen with her husband in Town Office shortly before the polls closed.

Town Clerk Pamela Shrimpton did not run this year’s election because she was a candidate, but she had explanations for many of Hamdan’s questions.

Shrimpton said Sternstein has been an election officer for a year, and her duty at the polls was to check off voters as they placed their ballots in the box. “Because of our checks and balances system, no one election worker is able to impact or tarnish the outcome of the tally in any way,” she said.

Shrimpton said she did not let the wife of a candidate work on the election because of the appearance of a conflict of interest. “But a cousin, in a small town like this, isn’t that close a relation. I believe she was very fair that day.”

There is nothing in the state’s election laws that prohibits a candidate’s relative from serving as a poll worker, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Sternstein said she had made phone calls on Sears’ behalf earlier during the campaigning, but not on election day. “You can’t show bias to anyone who comes in,” she said.

On the question of the absentee ballot voters, Shrimpton said if the eligibility of certain voters is contested by a voter, a hearing must be held before the town’s Board of Registrars, which would include those voters and the complainant.

“This outcome would not affect the count of the (May 5) election, since that has already occurred and the votes are anonymous,” Shrimpton explained. “After the Registrars’ hearing, the party who contested the voters (if they were removed from the voter list) would then need to go before a judge, to have this past election overturned.”

On the inconsistencies of the check-in and check-out voter lists, Shrimpton said an entrance poll worker mistakenly checked off the name of a voter’s daughter, who shares the same address. When the older woman finished voting, the exit poll worker checked off her correct name. The woman’s daughter never came in to vote. Therefore, both lists had 148 voters, although one wrong name was checked on the entry list.

And Jane Myers didn’t cast a vote in Hawley on May 5 because she had bought a second home in Northampton, closer to work, and had asked to be taken off Hawley’s voter list at the time of that purchase.

Shrimpton said 175 ballots were printed before the election, 148 votes were cast and 27 ballots remained unused. She said all ballots cast were fed into the voting box and counted.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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