Litchfield clerk says recount law needs clarification
LITCHFIELD — Town clerk Terri Briand says she followed the law and did nothing wrong when she scheduled a recount for a single warrant article last Friday.
However, the state Attorney General’s Office disagreed, issuing a cease and desist order to stop the recount on claims that select individuals did not receive direct notice from her three days prior to the event.
State election laws must be amended to clarify who should receive personal notification for recounts, Briand said.
“In my opinion, I followed the law to a T,” Briand said this weekend. “If this is being interpreted differently, then it needs to be changed.”
Briand referenced RSA 669:31, which states in part: “The clerk shall notify each of the candidates for the office for which there is to be a recount at least three days prior to the day appointed for the recount of ballots. No other notice shall be required.”
Tom Schofield, a local resident and former town fire chief, petitioned for a recount on warrant article 22, which asked voters to convert the town’s road agent position from an elected role into a position appointed by the Board of Selectmen. The warrant article passed by eight votes, with 789 in support and 781 in opposition.
Briand agreed that a recount was warranted, and scheduled the recount for last Friday, posting details on the town Web page, its social media page and at Litchfield Town Hall. Briand said she did not directly contact Schofield because he is not a “candidate for office” as required by the RSA notification statute.
“A candidate and a petitioner is not the same. Tom is not a candidate — he is a petitioner,” she said. “Petitioners are not considered candidates, and we didn’t do anything wrong, in my opinion.”
When the issue was first raised to Briand last week, she contacted Paula Penney at the Secretary of State’s Office, members of the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association and the town attorney for clarification. The general consensus, she said, was that only candidates running for office had to be personally notified of recounts.
A simple change of wording within the law to read “candidates for the office and/or petitioners” would clarify the confusion, said Briand. She said she has already been in touch with representatives from the New Hampshire Municipal Association to seek assistance in getting the law amended.
The new recount has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, and all of the petitioners seeking the recount have been individually notified, according to Briand, who says she does not need to recuse herself from the proceedings even though her father, Jack Pinciaro, is currently serving as the town’s road agent.
“I don’t care if this warrant article passes or not, my concern is that the town failed to duly notify me of the recount,” Schofield said last week. “Personally, I think this warrant article was a power grab from the Board of Selectmen.”
He also believes that there is a potential conflict of interest, and that Briand should recuse herself from participating in the recount process.