2007 April 27
by Eileen Curry
Last month's town vote, in which Perry residents narrowly approved a deal between Quoddy Bay LNG and the Town of Perry, remains the same, 229 211 in favor. The agreement calls for the liquefied natural gas developer to pay the town $3.6 million per year over the next 25 years. A recount was conducted on April 13 with three attorneys, a court reporter, the Perry town clerk and ballot counters, the petitioners and town selectmen. After the March 26 vote, members of Perry Citizens for Responsible Growth, asked for a ballot inspection, which took place on April 5. No change was announced after the inspection. Some days later, the group petitioned for a recount that took place on a stormy Friday, April 13. The vote count had not changed, and a voter list was provided to petitioners for review.
During the process, attorneys John Foster of Eastport and Kathleen Mishkin of Lubec were representing the citizens group, while Erik Stumpfel of Eaton Peabody represented the Town of Perry. Petitioner Jane Cook looked over the ballots while a court reporter took notes.
Town Clerk Janice Scanlon said in an interview after the recount, "This process was something that I took very seriously. We provided what these people wanted, and I feel that I was personally targeted in doing some illegal. The ballot counters and myself did our jobs to the best of our ability as we have in the past."
In an April 24 press release regarding the inspection of voting records and recount of ballots, Selectwoman Jeanne Guisinger stated that during the afternoon of March 26 on voting day "I began receiving calls from Perry voters who were concerned about the process of the election. There were concerns about the fact that two election workers were related to the candidates, Dorothy Turner who is sister-in-law to planning board candidate Karen Raye, and Rita Morrison, who is the mother of planning board candidate Gerald Morrison. There was also concern that Dorothy Turner is also the wife of Selectman David Turner, an outspoken advocate for Quoddy Bay and architect of the referendum issue of the financial framework agreement with Quoddy Bay LNG. Mrs. Turner was directly involved in handling the opened absentee ballots with no independent third party poll watchers observing. As selectwoman for the Town of Perry, I went to the municipal building to voice these concerns to Town Clerk Janice Scanlon. She advised me that her handling of the matter was okay and that she had probably read the manual more times than I had. After the results were tallied on the evening of the election, I requested from the town clerk a copy of the incoming voter list. She advised me that the records needed to be sealed for a period of 90 days. Over the next few days, I received several more phone calls with questions about who voted, who handled ballots and the inordinate number of absentee ballots." Guisinger also included a Town Meeting and Election Manual excerpt that states, "According to Title 21-A MRSA ss 504(3) 'a candidate or a member of the candidate's immediate family cannot serve as an election official in the electoral division from which the candidate seeks election.'" Guisinger stated, "Whether this also applies to municipal elections could be debated." She adds, "There were plenty of Perry citizens willing to serve."
Janice Scanlon, in response to the concerns reported by Guisinger, said, "This was a complete and honest oversight. It was unintentional. We had never had planning board candidates on the ballot before, and it never came up as a problem. Both Rita Morrison and Gerry Kendall were ballot clerks here long before I ever went to work for the Town of Perry."
Rita Morrison, a ballot clerk for the past 10 years, was contacted for her comments. Referring to her being related to Gerald Morrison, who was a candidate on the ballot for planning board, she said, "Well gee, I still know how to count even though he's my son! I never gave it a thought. We've never had trouble before here in town with counting ballots. These people don't trust anyone. It's a shame."
Dot Turner said, "Do you consider my husband's half brother's wife my immediate family? Listen, I've counted votes before in Eastport, never had a problem. This is a small town, everyone trusts each other. We were born and brought up here -- everyone is related to someone. No one is trying to do anything underhanded here."
Guisinger also stated in the prepared release that "56 voters first presented a petition for an inspection of records. This inspection was conducted by Town Clerk Janice Scanlon on April 5, 2007. The inspection yielded very little new information. Inspectors were not allowed to touch, compare or separate any of the hundreds of documents in any way to allow for evaluation. At best, the inspection was a cursory look. Again, the town clerk refused to release copies of the incoming voter list or tally sheets which accompanied ballots, saying that the records were sealed for a period of 30 days (down from 90 days as she had first said). We also determined that although the list was sealed, it was still a public document which should have been copied during the inspection because it was 'unsealed' by law for that event. Doing so might have made doing a recount unnecessary."
Scanlon denied she refused any information to Guisinger or petitioners, saying, "This was all concerning the incoming voter list used at the election and the absentee ballot list. I did not want to release it until necessary because of the personal voter information that it may have contained."
Guisinger said, "A review of the incoming voter list, the voter registration cards for 2007, and a list of absentee voters revealed that the incoming list and the official list of registered voters total up to 442 voters. There were a couple of clerical errors, one person left off of one list, two people left off the other." A comparison between the voter lists at Pleasant Point and Perry was also made, but no discrepancy was found.
Guisinger said later in an interview, "The Perry Citizens for Responsible Growth did not expect to find any discrepancies. It was the way it was handled, before and after the elections, that I disagree with. I am not accusing anyone with any wrongdoing. I am only doing what voters expect me to do as a selectwoman for the town."
© 2007 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.