The count is on!
Burlington's Board of Civil Authority — city councilors and three specially-designated ward election officials — kicked off what could be a three-day hand recount of all ballots cast Town Meeting Day in the race for mayor.
The board began counting around 7 p.m., and are expected to keep counting tonight until at least 10 p.m. They are counting two wards at a time, beginning tonight with Wards 1 & 2. (UPDATE: Wright called off the recount halfway through, according to John Briggs of the Burlington Free Press.)
The recount was requested Friday by Republican Kurt Wright after he narrowly lost to Progressive Bob Kiss during last Tuesday's mayoral election. In Burlington, voters select mayors through instant-runoff voting — a system that allows voters to rank their candidates.
By charter, the Board of Civil Authority is the 14-member city council and the mayor presiding as its chairman. But, since two councilors — Wright and Democrat Andy Montroll — ran for mayor, as did Kiss, the city had to seat three election clerks to ensure enough board members were onhand to count ballots. Those three additional members are Lee Gilbert, Rosaire Longe, and Eliza Nelson.
Fewer than two dozen residents gathered in Contois Auditorium to observe the recount.
To recap, here's how the vote broke down election night: In the first round, Wright had 2951 (33%) votes to Kiss' 2585 (29%) and Montroll's 2063 (23%), and in the second round Wright had 3294 (37%) to Kiss' 2981 (34%) and Montroll's 2554 (29%) after Independent Dan Smith and Green Party candidate James Simpson's votes were eliminated and their second preferences divvied up among the other three candidates. In the final round, Montroll was eliminated and 1332 of his preferences went to Kiss, while 767 went to Wright. That put Kiss on top with 4313 (51.5%) and Wright with 4061 (48%).
Interestingly enough, Kiss had compiled more votes than Wright after votes had been counted in six of the city's seven wards. It was Wright's strong showing in Ward 7 that put him over the top. His strong showing in the other New North End ward — Ward 4 — allowed him to make up the deficit in other parts of the city. In fact, both Kiss and Montroll bested Wright in the city's other five wards.
The recount process is as follows: Each ward will be reviewed separately, but the board will be divided in two larger teams so they can recount two wards simultaneously, each overseen by a different chief election official. One area would be watched over by Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold, and the other by Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Ben Pacy.
In addition, each mayoral candidate has tapped observers to watch over the process. However, they would not be allowed to touch ballots, said Leopold.
Before they can start counting, each ballot bag must be verified by its tag. Those tags were put in place by election officials Tuesday night. Then, two teams of three people will begin sorting ballots by their first-place vote. After that, the board will break up into pairs and then count the ballots — putting a rubber band around each stack of 50. They will then be able to compare the results against the machine tally.
After that, the same process will be sorted for second- and third-place votes until they exhaust the votes in each ward. This would ensure that only one ward's ballots are opened each time, rather than counting each ward by round, said Leopold.
Another approach was rejected by the board, which was to count votes, by ward, across the city by round. This would have entailed opening, and reopening, ballot bags.
If there is deviation from the counted vote, the board can review the voter checklist itself.
While doing the hand recount, there will also be a review of ballots to ensure "voter intent" in cases where it may not be obvious.