Democracy in action

This article was published 5 year(s) and 9 month(s) ago.

Saugus Board of Selectmen member Mark Mitchell is evidently one of those people who views democracy as a nice neat process where voters go to the polls, cast their ballots and everyone goes home happy.

As an active engaged participant in town civic affairs, Mitchell should know better, which is why his gripe about Corinne Riley seeking a recount of selectmen balloting sounds like sour grapes. Riley finished sixth in the Nov. 7 town election with 1,646 votes. Guess who finished in fifth place 16 votes ahead of Riley to claim another term as a board member? Mark Mitchell.

Mitchell has branded today’s recount requested by Riley as “an unnecessary process” and predicted Riley will finish again in sixth place. He might be right but a look at vote tallies from Nov. 7 shows Mitchell, Riley and Michael Serino in a vote clump with 53 votes separating Serino from Mitchell.

The 16 votes separating Mitchell’s finish on Nov. 7 and Riley’s represents less than 1 percent of the vote cast for each candidate. By contrast, much larger differences in vote tallies separated the top four finishers in the race for selectmen with Debra Panetta the frontrunner with a resounding 259-vote lead.

Mitchell is quoted as saying he views a recount as a waste of money. If, by that remark, he means it’s not worth double-checking who won, then he’s right. But recounts are not so much about tallying up ballots as they are about divining the voter’s intent.

All candidates who have expressed concern with the Nov. 7 results will have a chance to challenge ballots and bring experts to assist them in that effort. In debunking the recount, Mitchell seems to be taking a “how dare you” attitude about Riley’s decision to question how well the town vote-counting system worked on Nov. 7.

It’s ultimately up to chief town election official and Clerk Ellen Schena to defend or question the system’s performance. But no should get too offended by the notion that Riley, who claims she received election day reports about system malfunctions, is challenging a 16-vote gap separating her finish from Mitchell’s.

Saugus is not the only area community recounting ballots. Malden has a recount today and Medford went through the exercise on Saturday. Saugus is also a community with a proven track record of recount upsets. Just ask Stephen Horlick and Michael Coller about the 2015 recount and where their respective vote tallies stood after the dust settled in the wake of the re-tallying.

The town under Schena and Manager Scott Crabtree’s leadership is to be praised for spending $55,000 to update voting technology. But an investment aimed at improving the voting system doesn’t mean the new system is free of bugs or deficiencies.

Again, Mitchell might be right and today’s investment in a recount may not change the Nov. 7 results. But if the finishes were reversed and Mitchell landed in sixth place 16 votes behind Riley, he probably would have contemplated a recount. After all, democracy is a messy process leading to a perfect union.

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