YARMOUTH — The town will manually recount ballots to confirm passage of local Question 4, the referendum establishing a Rental Housing Advisory Committee and requiring landlords to give tenants 75 days’ notice for rent increases.
The Rental Dwelling Ordinance narrowly passed on Election Day by 33 votes, 2,423 to 2,390.
Resident Craig Martin said he and others collected 160 signatures calling for a recount and submitted them to the Town Clerk’s office Friday, Nov. 16. The town requires 100 signatures.
Martin said he had help collecting signatures from members of a group called “No On 4,” which, prior to the Nov. 6 election, campaigned against the proposed ordinance. The group had described its policy and legality as “madness.”
On Monday, Town Manager Nat Tupper said the minimum requirement of 100 petition signatures had been verified. The recount will be scheduled by the town clerk next week.
According to Tupper, there isn’t a specified time frame for when the recount would have to take place, but officials would “get to it” as soon as they could.
Tupper said it would be the first recount of a general town election that he can recall. He also said he “doesn’t expect the outcome to change.”
According to the town, there were 569 undervotes for the question – ballots not counted because of an unclear marking – which Martin in an email said “was substantially higher undervote than those for questions on the front of the ballot. A manual recount will verify that all local ballot scanners were accurately tabulating the back of the ballots.”
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 Tupper, between 2 percent and 3 percent of ballots for Questions 1, 3 and 5 were left blank, while Question 2 had just over 8 percent left blank.
Question 4 had approximately 10.5 percent blank.
“The numbers just seem off … and the vote on this question was so close,” Martin said Monday morning. “We just want to see whether it was voter error. … If in the long run if we need to go to a single-side ballot then that’s what we should do.”
Tupper said there were many “fail safe” measures in place to assure that questions left blank were done so intentionally, including voters being told the ballot was two-sided and printing that information on the front side 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.
That said, Tupper added, the scanners can’t tell if a question is not clearly marked.
“We may find that if someone marks yes and no, that the scanner will say it was blank,” he said. “But someone looking at it could tell what the voter’s intent was,” for example, in the case of a crossed out yes vote with a filled in and circled no vote.
Tupper said he expects a manual recount to find a couple of marks that could mean more yeas or nays, but doesn’t think it will account for 33 votes.
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 many who said it unfairly targeted Taymil Properties, which owns Yarmouth Pointe, Yarmouth Green, Yarmouth Place, and Yarmouth Landing, because the ordinance would only impose the notice restriction on landlords with 10 or more rental units.
Tupper on Monday said Taymil already gives their tenants 75 days’ notice for increases and there has been no action by the council since the Nov. 6 election on establishing a committee.
Martin said he and other petition-signers simply want the votes verified by people, not machines.
“Let’s just take a look,” he said. “It’s not going to hurt.”