Yarmouth rental ordinance stands after ballot recount

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YARMOUTH — A manual recount that concluded Tuesday revealed only a minor change in results of the Election Day vote on local Question 4.

The final margin in favor of the referendum establishing a Rental Housing Advisory Committee and requiring landlords to give tenants 75 days’ notice for rent increases was 25 votes, 2,423 to 2,398, with 561 ballots left blank.

The ordinance initially passed Nov. 6 by 33 votes, 2,423 to 2,390. Eight ballots that were categorized as blank by scanners on Election Day were found to be votes against the proposal during the recount, held at Town Hall.

In July, a petition drafted by Councilor April Humphrey with input from members of the Yarmouth Tenants’ Association was submitted in support of the Rental Dwelling Ordinance, which proposed establishing the Rental Housing Advisory Committee and requiring the 75-day notice for rent increases.

Most councilors opposed the proposal, or aspects of it, when they voted Sept. 5 to send it to voters.

The proposal also received criticism from residents who said it unfairly targeted Taymil Properties, because the ordinance would only impose the notice restriction on landlords with 10 or more rental units.

Humphrey initially brought the proposal to the council in October 2017, after receiving complaints about rent increases, inadequate repairs and lack of maintenance from tenants at four Taymil properties: Yarmouth Pointe, Yarmouth Green, Yarmouth Place and Yarmouth Landing.

The council ultimately rejected the proposal.

Town Manager Nat Tupper has said Taymil already gives its tenants 75 days’ notice for increases. Action on establishing a committee had been stalled because of the recount.

Resident Craig Martin and others collected 160 signatures calling for the recount and submitted them to the clerk’s office Nov. 16. The town requires 100 signatures.

Martin, who said petition-signers wanted the vote verified by people, not machines, had help collecting signatures from members of a group called “No On 4,” which campaigned against the proposed ordinance.

Tupper said voters received five ballots – two for the state and three for the town – which included five referendum questions. One town ballot, Tupper said, had Question 1 on the front and Question 2 on the back. Another had Question 3 on one side and Question 4 on the other. Question 5 was on a single-sided form.

According to the town, there were 569 ballots not counted because they were not clearly marked or were left blank. Tupper said between 2 percent and 3 percent of ballots for Questions 1, 3 and 5 were left blank, while just over 8 percent were left blank for Question 2.

Approximately 10.5 percent of the ballots for Question 4 were blank.

Starting at 9 a.m. Monday, 12 volunteers – six proponents of the ordinance and six in favor of the recount – joined town staff to sort through ballots to separate Question 4 from the rest of the ballots.

From there, ballots were counted by hand.

After volunteers went home, town staff realized their count came in 40 ballots under the official results from November’s election. So Tuesday morning they went back and re-tallied the ballots on their own, counting the total 5,382.

Other than that small hiccup, Martin said Tuesday, the process went “smoothly.”

“It was a good process for the town to go through … to see the ballots and some of the mistakes that were made when ballots were filled out,” he said, noting that some mistakes, such as marking the “o” in “No” rather than the circle beside it, were common.

Martin said there still might be some reason for the town to look into using single-sided ballots to reduce confusion.

Tupper, however, said last month that there are many “fail-safe” measures in place to assure that questions left blank were intentional. He said voters were told the ballot was two-sided, and that information was also printed on the front of ballots.

Further, he said, ballot scanners can read if a question is left blank and will automatically ask the voter if they’d like to proceed.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Volunteers at Yarmouth Town Hall on Monday, Dec. 10, recount ballots from the Nov. 6 election to confirm passage of a referendum establishing a rental housing ordinance. The recount reduced the margin of passage to 25 votes from 33 on Election Day.

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