Utility election schedule set

Ballotting will start on Sept. 25
Fri, 09/08/2017 - 10:15am
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After scrapping its original Utility District Commission Election to elect a five-member Board of Utility Commissioners, the Town of New Shoreham has a new plan and schedule. The Town Council voted unanimously at its meeting on Tuesday to implement the election schedule devised by Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick, which will commence on Sept. 25 and have a deadline of Oct. 24 at 3 p.m., when the votes will be counted.

Ballots from the original election were to be counted on Monday, Aug. 28, but the Town Council decided to redo the utility election due to some public protest regarding “flaws” and “irregularities” in the voting process. 

“This is what I recommend,” said Fitzpatrick, who noted that she created the election schedule with help from Block Island Power Company President Jeffery Wright and the town’s Board of Canvassers. “This (new) list works in a lot of feedback from utility customers.” She noted that BIPCo’s list is not great for creating an election ballot. “The list has never been used in this way.” Fitzpatrick told The Block Island Times that the list will be alphabetical by last names.

Fitzpatrick stressed at the meeting that the “onus is on account holders” to review the information and provide the power company with their updated corrected information during the period stipulated in the schedule. The time period that is scheduled for updating account information runs from Sept. 5 through Sept. 20.

“I support the schedule,” said Wright. “We’re much more confident now that we have a more workable list.”

“A more accurate list,” remarked Second Warden Norris Pike, who serves on the BIPCo board and Transition Team.

Fitzpatrick’s schedule is as follows: BIPCo bills were mailed out to account holders on Tuesday advising them to contact the power company to update their account information. After receiving the information, BIPCo will make changes to its billing database.

The revised BIPCo account-billing database will be provided to the town’s Information Technology department on Sept. 15 to create a new ballot database specifically for the utility election. Town clerks will update the ballot database through Sept. 20.

The deadline for providing updated account holder name changes and other information to BIPCo is Sept. 20. The next day the town’s ballot database will be updated with final changes, and the canvassers will then cull the list to remove any duplicate accounts.

On Monday Sept. 25, or Tuesday, Sept. 26, the ballot envelopes, containing candidate info sheets and preprinted return envelopes, will be mailed out to voters/account holders. Voters should expect to receive their ballots by Sept. 29 or 30. The voting period will run from Oct. 2 until Oct. 18. Voters should place their ballots in the mail by, or on, Oct. 18. The candidates are Mary Jane Balser, Christine Grele, Barbara MacMullan, Sean McGarry, Pete McNerney, Bill Penn, John “Jack” Savoie, and Everett Shorey.

Ballots are due back to Town Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 24 by 3 p.m. with the counting scheduled to commence at 3:30 p.m. The town’s website notes that this will be a public process, and that volunteers are needed.

During the discussion, resident Bob Fallon asked how the mailings would be “handled by the power company” when he is in Florida during the winter. Fallon noted that he has a P.O. Box on the Island.

“The ballots are going to be sent out by the town, not the power company,” said Fitzpatrick. “The way that will be handled is however you made those arrangements with the Post Office. The power company is going to have your address. We’re going to send the ballot to your billing address. You make the arrangements and have your mail forwarded, or not.”

“There is always a delay in getting mail forwarded. So what are the time constraints that we are going to be under?” asked Fallon.

“You’re going to have almost four weeks, “said Fitzpatrick. “The ballots are going to be mailed out around [Friday] Sept. 25. You need to get your ballot back to Town Hall by Oct. 18.”

Fitzpatrick noted that time has been built into the schedule “so people can return their ballots on time. If there is an emergency you can always call Town Hall, and say your ballot didn’t get to you. We will issue another one. That’s one of the reasons why we need the identifying number at the bottom of the ballot. We need to know whose ballots have gone out, and whose ballots are coming back in order to prevent duplication of the ballots, and make sure voters vote once.”

“How have we decided to handle the multi-account holders?” asked Cliff McGinnes, Sr., whose wife, Sara, is a one-third shareholder in the power company.

Fitzpatrick said she was “going to have a sit-down with the power company, the clerk’s office, and the Board of Canvassers, to go through the list, keeping in mind the (enabling) legislation that was passed.”

She said the legislation states, “One vote per entity. If one individual owns three houses then that individual only gets one vote — they get one ballot. If one business has three accounts, that business will only get one ballot. If one individual has a residential account, and a business in another name, we’re going to look at that as two entities — they will get two ballots.”

“You only have one bill per meter?” asked Councilor Martha Ball.

“Correct,” said Wright.

Resident Paul Filippi said he had never heard of a numbered ballot before, noting that it doesn’t make it a secret election. In response, Fitzpatrick said, “No, this isn’t a secret election like the Title 17 election.” A Title 17 election by Rhode Island law is a general election. “This is akin to a utility district election, where people vote in a room like a Financial Town Meeting.”

“We use the secret number on the ballot” to confirm who has voted, added Fitzpatrick. “So it’s not secret. One person is going to know how you voted, if they care. I’ve said this before at other meetings, ‘We’re Switzerland. We have no dog in the fight. We don’t care how anyone votes.’”