From left: Sylvia Cuomo, Susan Lowenstein, Sandra Burgess Town Clerk, Joyce Crouch
The Amherst Board of Registrars failed to come to a decision concerning the complaint filed by long-time Amherst Town Meeting members Vince O'connor and Mary Wentworth regarding what appears to be fraudulent signatures on the nomination papers of School Committee candidate Phoebe Hazzard.
Ms. Hazzard had taken out her papers at 3:30 on the deadline day and brought them back an hour-and-a-quarter later with 65 signatures, seven of which were thrown out, leaving 58 certified.
For town wide office such as School Committee, 50 signatures of duly registered voters are required.
Red check means good, N means not registered, S means can't identify signature
The Town Clerk did point out that neither she nor the Board of Registrars are handwriting experts and they are legally bound by the notion of "apparent conformity": If the registered voter's name matches the address then they have to certify the name, even if it's printed or looks like the same handwriting as the previous surname that also resides in the same household.
After 1.5 hours of sometimes testy testimony the Board decided to meet again on Tuesday to decide whether they will accept the challenge to the signatures and then ascertain if there is any merit to the challenge.
The Town Clerk was adamant that the Town Attorney ruled the challenge was handed in past the "two working day" deadline (by 35 minutes), and therefor the Board of Registrars would be setting a bad precedent by accepting the challenge.
Vince O'Connor and Mary Wentworth present to the Board of Registrars
O'Connor and Wentworth argued the Town Clerks office was closed to the general public for a half day within that 48 hour deadline, therefor they should have had more time to file their complaint.
O'Connor repeatedly stated he wished for this matter to be handled locally by this board rather than becoming a criminal matter with the DA or an appeal in Northampton Hampshire Superior Court. To which Board member Susan Lowenstein responded she did not like the words "fraud and criminal intent."
Saying he did not even know candidate Phoebe Hazzard, O'Connor stated he was in the Town Clerk's office when Hazzard first took out her nomination papers and still there when she returned them. Wentworth added, "To old hands like us, it was a red flag."
Observer Rich Morse, a former prosecutor, said the board "Should not delegate this out to the town attorney. The fundamental issue here is was there fair access over that two day period to make observations and judgements about the signatures?"
No matter what the Board of Registrars decides on Tuesday, at this point, in a town that reveres grass roots democracy, the campaign process has been tainted.
Town Clerk Handout