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Board of Health race complicated by swearing in By Ariel Wittenberg awittenberg@s­t.com April 03, 2013 12:00 AM

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FAIRHAVEN — Both candidates in a closely contested race for the Board of Health are claiming victory, and it will take a recount to determine a winner. But it won't be even that simple, given that challenger John Wethington was sworn into the post Monday night even though a final count of the ballots showed he lost by a single vote to incumbent Peter DeTerra.

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With a 22 percent voter turnout, the initial electronic machine tally for the Board of Health race given at 8:30 p.m. Monday gave the race to Wethington by a three­vote margin.

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Wethington was sworn into office by Town Clerk Eileen Lowney around 9 amid calls by DeTerra for a recount.

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Later in the night, Lowney tallied the previously uncounted 48 ballots that were deemed "unreadable" by the machine, and that gave DeTerra a lead of one vote. Reached by phone Tuesday, Lowney said it "slipped my mind" that she had not yet counted the unread ballots before swearing in Wethington.

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"In the past, I always wait until the next day to do the hand count of those ballots," she said. Lowney said there are usually fewer than five ballots the machines do not read and "it has never changed the outcome of the election." "I learned my lesson," she said. Candidates have 10 days from election night to seek a recount, which they do by writing a letter explaining their request to the Town Clerk's Office and providing signatures of support from 10 voters from each of the six precincts. DeTerra said he is no longer interested in requesting a recount. "(Wethington) has to ask for the recount now," he said. "He was sworn in but he's not going to be official until the recount is done." For his part, Wethington said he considered himself "still the winner."

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"I was declared the winner so, as far as I'm concerned, I'm on the Board of Health," he said. "It should be (DeTerra's) responsibility to get a recount but now people are telling me it's me."

UP TO $30 BACK WHEN YOU PURCHASE JONATHAN GREEN ORGANIC PRODUCTS Mahoney's Building Supply Inc. Hello, Lawrence Wittenberg  (Not you?) Wethington said he was still waiting to see if DeTerra would request a recount but that "if it comes down to it, of EDITION EMAIL ALERTS  |   TEXT ALERTS HELP  | LOG OUT course I'll ask for one." Buy One Pizza Get One Half Off! Blue Point Restaurant Brian McNiff, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Election Division, said it was up to the town whether TOP JOBS   TOP HOMES Wethington would be "sworn out." He added that the Board of Health should not meet until the issue is resolved $10 OFF Any Fall 2013 Adult Education in a recount or otherwise. Evening Course Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Town Counsel Thomas Crotty said he is still researching the legal issues involved but that "at this point, I would Technical High School

think that since she admitted the mistake, that swearing in would be voided." "Assuming there is a recount, the winner will be sworn in then," he said. Wethington said "the whole thing was just handled so poorly."

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, members of Windwise, a group that supported Wethington in his campaign, questioned whether DeTerra had planted the 48 extra ballots.

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Board of Health race complicated by swearing in | SouthCoastToday.com

"While Wethington and most in Town Hall were being interviewed on cable access, Peter DeTerra, his opponent, $2,200 was seen in the clerk's office, behind the counter, in close proximity to the unlocked and unsecured ballots," the statement says. "No police or election officials were present. Thereafter, DeTerra entered the TV room and announced that more votes were found and that he would ask for a recount." DeTerra denied any foul play. Lowney said the ballots were not so much found as forgotten, and that the mechanics of the voting machines would make such foul play nearly impossible. If a ballot is not readable by the machine, the voter puts it in a special slot in the side of the voting machine, which is locked. At the end of the night, Lowney explained, those votes are unlocked from the machine and counted.

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"I can't see how (DeTerra) could slip in that many ballots in the time frame that they say this happened," she said. The Board of Health race is not the only one in town with an apparent recount. Lowney's count of the 48 ballots also narrowed John Ferrell's lead over Cathy Melanson in the one­year Planning Board seat from 10 votes to four. Lowney said she has encouraged Melanson to apply for a recount, as well. HOME

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