Everything you always wanted to know about recounts*

Today, I received an email from an activist and supporter of Alejandra St Guillen, candidate for Boston City Council At-Large, urging me to visit 315 Centre St in Jamaica Plain, which contains a storefront usually reserved by a local Democrat candidate for office, in order to sign a recount petition. Although I did not actively support Alejandra in the 2019 race, I am aware of the tiny number of votes that separated Alejandra from Julia Mejia on Tuesday, November 5th. I saw on social media that Julia’s campaign is also gathering their own recount signatures, so I decided to pay Julia’s headquarters a visit on my way to Alejandra’s: here is a quick summary of what I learned from the two political camps.

*but wuz afraid to ask.

The results of last week’s election are provisional, and do not contain a number of absentee ballots and other potentially uncounted votes. The provisional tally was 22,464 to 22,454 in favor of Julia. Since Julia’s margin is only 10 votes, and the number of uncounted ballots is rumored to be as high as 2000, the provisional election results do not indicate a winner.

Since either candidate could still easily lose by a margin small enough to make a recount advisable, both Julia’s and Alejandra’s campaigns have opted to gather signatures. In order to initiate the recount, one of the candidates will have to submit 1,100 certified signatures: 50 from each of Boston’s 22 wards. Signatures are due by Friday the 15th at 5pm, which is the same day and time that the Elections Department will release the final general election tally.

If a candidate began gathering signatures the day after the Tuesday election, they would have 10 days to gather 1,100 certified signatures. This task is significantly more difficult than finding the 1,500 certified signatures required to gain a place on the preliminary election ballot, for several reasons:

  • Less time: Even though the number required for the recount is only 73% of the ballot access requirement, the number of days in which to gather signatures (10) is less than half (45%) of the 22-day period in April during which City Council and Mayor candidates fight for positions outside of Roche Brothers in West Roxbury.
  • Specific requirements: In order to make the At-Large ballot, one must turn in 1,500 certified signatures of voters registered anywhere in Boston. In order to initiate a recount, one must turn in 50 certified signatures per ward, and they must be collected on ward-specific sheets, requiring a simultaneous effort throughout the entire city, on behalf of multiple persons, and precluding a focus on certain locations rich with registered voters.
  • Other challenges: The weather is far less conducive to gathering signatures in November than in April, and we recently lost an hour of “day time” during the evening. Additionally, since neither campaign knows if a recount will be necessary, or even whether it will be in their candidate’s best interest to request one, it is difficult to motivate workers to complete a time sensitive task, the product of which might be worthless.

Today, I signed recount papers for Alejandra, and was kindly assisted in the completion of a sheet for Julia by a few members of the Ward 11 Democrat Committee. I also was also happy to congratulate Alejandra in person on her impressive general election turnout. While it is impossible to say for certain, it is likely that the absentee ballots will, in general, favor one of the two candidates. If so, I believe it likely they will favor Alejandra. General election absentee voters are often those who have already left New England for the winter. I believe those voters are likelier to live in areas of the City in which Alejandra received her stronger support (credit to Matt McCloskey for the map):

Julia vs Alejandra

Is the present recount system the best that could be devised? Are the extremely onerous requirements for the initiation of a recount necessary and beneficial to the public interest? Is it fair to candidates and campaign volunteers to require signature gathering, before the final results of the election are made known? With election mechanics already a topic of considerable conversation in the Boston political sphere, the ranked choice campaign having debuted a new branding effort, it is fair to say that we may soon be discussing a more sensible way to determine a winner in municipal races that are initially too close to call.

Comment ( 1 )

  1. ReplyAnnie Rousseau
    Sean, thank you for writing this. This election as left me with many questions. I wonder how ranked choice voting would have effected this race? Would people not have billeted voted and instead ranked all eight candidates? And why do we not have automatic recounts? At the very least the recount clock should not start ticking until we have official results.