Machine malfunction compromised library vote

Jennifer Kavanagh

Three weeks ago, voters in Saugerties approved a near $600,000 library budget by a 70-percent margin. The vote total was 373 to 159, endorsing a budget of $599,434. Voters also elected three new trustees to the library board: Cynthia Saporito (304 votes) Elizabeth Hernandez (287 votes) and Irene Hurst (170 votes).

Old news? Not so fast.

Although the election was certified to be valid on the night of the vote, by a person who monitored the process all day, library staff felt that the vote total for candidate Jennifer Kavanagh was inconsistent with the vote totals received by the other candidates. While her absentee ballot count was similar to theirs (she received 7 absentee ballot votes, compared to an average of 13 absentee votes for the other candidates), her numbers on the mechanical levered voting machine were much lower, with just three votes registered, as compared to an average of 154 votes received via that machine for the other six candidates.

Library director Sukrit Goswami says that when they looked at the numbers, it was just “common sense” to have the machine checked. At the library’s request, a trained technician examined the machine on Sept. 11, he says, and found that it was not functioning correctly during the election on Sept. 6, and that votes cast for Kavanagh were not properly recorded, though no other vote totals — including, crucially, the budget — were affected.

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“The technician determined that the machine had stopped counting votes for Jennifer Kavanagh after the third vote for her,” says Goswami. “He was not able to determine how many additional votes were cast for her, but said it was just her line that was affected. We have no reason to believe that the rest of the vote was compromised.”

The library is not required to hold another election, and Goswami says that in fact, they do not have the authority to do so in any case. “We can’t unilaterally change the results or hold a new election,” he says.

A new election would be required if the vote total were challenged, as would be common practice in a more partisan election. It is unlikely that a Republican or Democratic candidate for Town Board or county legislature who received less than one percent of the vote total would not gather sworn statements of voters and force a revote.

But the Library Board is another world. Trustees are generally there to help, not to push any particular agenda. Taking the library to court and forcing it to hold another election would be expensive, requiring precious funds that could instead be spent on programs, materials and additional staff.

For her part, Kavanagh has decided not to contest the results, choosing instead to work with the library by joining the volunteer Friends of the Saugerties Public Library, who foster relations between the library and the community, and support the improvement of their services and resources.

“In part, I don’t feel as though it would be fair to ask the public to come back and vote again,” she says. “Of course I’m disappointed, but I feel as though I have another shot a year from now, when I can run for the board again if I decide to.”

She says that she believes the rest of the vote was uncompromised, and that she was the only one affected.

“I don’t want to build it into something more than it was,” she says. “Sometimes it’s better to just learn from these things and move on.”

She is appreciative, she says, that the discrepancy was disclosed. “I was told that the machine was checked prior to the election and was working properly then. I think that the library just trusted in that, and it was their common sense and ethics that played a role in them taking the step to do the right thing and look again once they looked at the numbers. One of the things that could be a standard in the future is having a back-up next time, where a recount can be done.”

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