Down for the Recount in the 7th Hampden District…
The United States Presidential election appears to be sewn up, but one local House race remains in limbo. Ludlow School Committee member James “Chip” Harrington, the Republican candidate for the 7th Hampden House district, is preparing to request at least a partial hand recount of ballots in his district.
Down 134 votes to Democrat (and School Committee colleague) Jake Oliveira, Harrington will seek a review of the results after a reporting error in Belchertown. The Town Clerk, Colleen Toothill-Berte, had submitted incorrect figures to the Associated Press late Tuesday, which put Harrington in the lead, only to correct them the next day. While the scope of the recount is not yet clear, Harrington has said he owes it to supporters to ensure the tallies are accurate.
“We are going to be asking for a recount,” Harrington had told supporters in a Facebook video posted on Friday, citing the Belchertown
In a state rep race, a 134-vote margin is difficult to overcome. Between the two of them, Harrington and Oliveira received 22,000 votes. However, the overnight snafu along with unrelated election errors on the Belchertown Clerk’s website gave Harrington and his campaign pause.
In an interview, Harrington, said the totality of concerns about the Belchertown clerk’s office fueled his pursuit of a recount. In addition to the error in the Associated Press data, he highlighted transposed words and numbers on election data on the town website as well.
Harrington observed that clerks have a difficult job. Yet he claimed that paying attention to detail was not the Belchertown clerk’s strong suit.
“There’s no more important job that you have than running an election,” he said of clerks’ responsibilities.
In towns of Belchertown’s size, the town clerk’s office administers elections. Large cities like Springfield have their own election department, although it often nominally falls under the city clerk’s purview.
Despite his efforts, Harrington acknowledged that unless there were large and consistent tabulation errors, he faces a tough road to overtaking Oliveira.
“I fully recognize that it is a large number to overturn,” he said. Harrington noted as much in his video for supporters.
For his part, however, Oliveira doubted that his lead would change.
“We are confident that our campaign received the most votes in this race,” Oliveira said in an emailed statement. “As a potential recount moves forward, we will work with election officials to ensure that every single vote is counted and that everyone’s voice is heard in this race.”
Oliveira’s assurance is not surprising. Seasoned pols like he and Harrington likely collected results Tuesday night that mirror the corrected data posted Wednesday. Only late arriving mail and drop-off ballots would have been missing. That would likely not be sufficient to swing the result.
Indeed, Oliveira indicated he is preparing for his lead to be confirmed.
“As we resolve this race, I am looking forward to getting to work as the 7th Hampden’s new State Representative,” he continued.
Harrington said the full shape of the recount is not yet certain. His attorney advised him to collect 10 signatures per precinct in the district. That many signatures could facilitate a districtwide recount. However, he could also seek a partial recount, which would almost assuredly include the three Belchertown precincts in the district.
“We are gathering signatures from most of the district. We don’t have everywhere right now,” he said Sunday.
The deadline to submit signatures is Friday. He expects to make a decision about the breadth of the recount early this week, contingent on signature-gathering.
Harrington has hired former US Attorney Michael Sullivan for the recount. He come recommended by other Republicans in the state. Harrington said Sullivan has overseen several recounts like this before.
Massachusetts recount rules are notoriously byzantine. Political practitioners of both parties call upon a relatively small stable of election lawyers to lead and oversee recounts.
In Harrington’s case, Sullivan will manage his campaign’s side of a recount, which should begin a week or two after he submits the signatures.
In his statement, Oliveira said he hired Dennis Newman, at the recommendation of Democrats. Newman, too, has lots of recount experience going back years. For example, he worked on Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia’s citywide recount last year.