Councilors sat in rows, two to a table, giving Contois Auditorium an elementary school feel. Their assignment Monday night wouldn’t have stumped a second grader: They were there to count stacks of paper.
More precisely, they were re-counting the 6,450 ballots Burlington residents cast for or against the school budget on June 3.
On the day of the vote, tabulator machines recorded the ballots, and the city-certified outcome was that the budget passed by 68 votes. The slimness of the margin led Dale Tillotson, a Ward 7 voter, to request a recount. He knew the outcome was unlikely to change, but said he viewed it as an opportunity to test Burlington's voting procedures.
Three and a half hours later, the results of were reassuring, if anticlimactic: There was three vote difference.
One additional "yes" vote in Ward 5 and two fewer "no" votes in Ward 7 meant that the budget passed by 71 votes.
Tillotson, who came bearing a calculator and procedural questions for the city attorney, was one of only a few members of the public who came out to watch the recount. School board chair Patrick Halladay and Brian Cina, another school board member, were the only residents who stayed till the bitter end.
In between counting sessions, councilors tapped their feet, twirled pencils, played on their phones, and yawned as they waited for assistant chief administrative officer Scott Schrader to empty big black duffel bags onto their tables.
What would have happened if the hand-counting exercise had resulted in a significantly different number than the machines came up with? Voters can, according to Schrader, request a recount of a recount.
Councilors carried out the menial task, which kept them at City Hall to nearly 11:00 p.m., in goodnatured fashion. If nothing else, the exercise afforded an opportunity for inter-party fraternizing — councilors were intentionally assigned to tables in such a way that no two councilors of the same party sat together.
At one point, Mayor Miro Weinberger's chief of staff, Mike Kanarick, snuck him two bags of Snyder pretzels, eliciting protests from the other councilors. (Weinberger offered to share.)