Opinion: On the recent Rochester election

May 29, 2024

To the editor:

I’m writing to express my concern that this year’s election was poorly conducted and has eroded my faith in the process here in Rochester. First we experienced misprinted mail-in ballots. The original mail-in ballots said “vote for one” in the Rochester Memorial School Committee race and “vote for one” in the Library Trustees race. Both should have read “vote for two.”

It was a very costly mistake and created a lot of confusion and unfortunately, I believe, skewed at least the Rochester Memorial School Committee race. A letter and second mail-in ballot was issued (but only at request) in an attempt to mitigate the problem, however the instructions were not clear. I know from many firsthand reports that some people didn’t see the second ballot in their mailbox before the election, others didn’t understand the instructions, some people were out of town, and still others after having mailed the first ballot in didn’t bother to complete another one.

In a very close election, it is vital that every detail is managed correctly. In the Rochester Memorial School race, one of the candidates lost by just 24 votes. There were 221 blanks in that race, meaning that 221 second votes were not cast in that election. Think about it, 221 blanks, that is double from the last school committee race that took place in 2022 where there were also four candidates vying for two seats. I believe the mail-in ballot debacle contributed significantly to this excessive number of blanks.

Secondly, I have heard, but have not been able to independently verify, that on the morning of the election, the ballots were not available because they were locked up and for some reason were unavailable at the start of the election at 8:00 a.m. Then the machine vote tabulator broke down or wasn’t set up properly. This interfered with some people’s opportunity to vote as they rushed on to work. Ballots were filled out by some and stored until the machine was repaired and online. However, this was not an optimal solution, as it is not as secure as placing the ballots directly in the machine.

Here in Rochester, we elect our town clerk. We ask residents to somehow vet the qualifications that the candidates have for this very important position. Popular candidates with the best intentions may not be the right choice. Or there may be only one candidate to choose from. The town clerk is a professional position that requires experience, digital expertise, attention to detail, planning skills and precise communication skills to provide the best and trustworthy results in our town elections. It is also not a partisan position. The town clerk doesn’t make political decisions. They are there to do a job.

I suggest that we no longer elect our town clerk, but hire, through the Select Board, a vetted professional with experience and expertise to manage our elections and other job functions of the Rochester town clerk. Rather than selecting from among those who simply choose to run every three years, we should hire from an array of qualified individuals at such time we need to fill the position or replace an individual in the position.

Michael Kovacevich, Rochester