MACHIAS, Maine — A candidate who lost both his special election bid and then a recount last week for a vacant seat on the Board of Selectmen at first conceded, then sued the town for a new election and then conceded again.
A tally of ballots cast during the three-man race held on Jan. 31 declared Cony Upton winner by one vote of the five-month term on the board to fill the late Norman Nelson’s seat.
At the close of the recount on Feb. 3, which resulted in the same outcome, the second-place finisher, Stephen Smith, said he was unsure whether he would take the town to court to press for a new election or at least a run-off election.
Later that evening, Smith conceded the election, stating, “I don’t want to put the town through that expense.”
But the next day, Smith served the town with court documents stating that he was seeking a declaratory judgement to press for a new election.
By the end of the weekend, however, Smith had changed his mind again and said he will not push forward the court action but will wait until a general election in June and run for a selectman’s seat again.
“I was hellbent on making this election right,” Smith said Monday morning. “But I’ve decided to drop my appeal. It’s not worth the taxpayers’ expense.”
Smith added, however, that he would not drop his efforts to provide as much help as possible to voters at the polls.
He said that at least one family, of Chinese descent, was very confused about the absentee voting process and, as a result, a nonresident actually voted twice. One vote was put in with the other, accepted ballots, but the Chinese man’s second ballot was segregated and not counted.
Election officials said the man, who does not speak English, believed he was properly voting on behalf of his wife and mother-in-law, who are both American citizens. Officials did not believe there was any intent to game the system and no charges were filed.
Smith said Monday that when elderly people come to the polls and need assistance, help is provided.
But he felt not enough was done to assist the Chinese man.
“I think that voter registration cards should be printed in other languages and I think there should be interpreters at the polls,” he said.
According to Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, which advises cities and towns, the Machias situation appears unique. “We are not aware of anyone requesting an interpreter for a local election,” he said Monday. “There is no statute requiring that clerks make interpreters available.”
Smith said he would again run in June for a three-year term. “I’ll run again for the bigger prize,” he said.
At the recount, Upton received 54 votes to Smith’s 53, and Upton was sworn in immediately as selectman. Upton will fill the seat until June elections. A third candidate, Edward Pellon, received 39 votes, and there was a single write-in vote for Allen Devericks.
Attorney Deke Talbot was on hand to assist the town during the recount and said afterward that even though there was clearly one ballot counted that does not meet election standards, he felt that was not fatal to the election process.
“But, it is certainly a concern for us all because we cannot know for certain if the election would have remained unchanged or would have been a tie,” Talbot said.
“There was no technical error in the process by the clerk,” he said. “This is a very unusual situation.”