Elected officials in Oak Bluffs failed to publish the warrant for last week’s special town election within two weeks of the vote as required by law, the Gazette has learned.
This means the town override election last week will require a special act from the state legislature to certify the results, or the town must call a new election.
It was revealed yesterday that the town neglected to publish a legal notice for the May 28 special election in a general circulation newspaper a full 14 days before the election, as required under Massachusetts General Law.
Town administrator Michael Dutton confirmed yesterday there was some confusion about the procedure for a special town election. He said the town published the warrant for the annual town meeting in April, which included individual articles explaining several overrides and debt exclusions for next year’s operating budget.
And while override elections usually take place at the annual town election in the same week as the annual town meeting, town officials missed the deadline and were forced to call a special election in the last week of May, a full six weeks after the town meeting. But they also failed to publish the warrant as required by law.
“We are hoping we can fix this with an action from the state legislature without having to throw the results out,” Mr. Dutton said yesterday.
Mr. Dutton also confirmed the election ballot was not posted in the town post office. Although there is no law requiring a notice be placed there, the post office has historically served as a public posting place for town warrants.
The special town election last week included six Proposition 2 1/2 override questions — two of them pivotal questions involving school spending with possible implications for the town operating budget. Both override questions were approved by less than 100 votes.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Oak Bluffs town clerk Deborah deBettencourt Ratcliff said she was aware that the town had failed to properly publish the ballot well before last week’s election. She sent a letter to Mr. Dutton on April 16 which confirmed the date of the election and advised the town administrator that the ballot “must be posted and published 14 days ahead of the election date so [officials] can set the registration deadline as May 8 and order the ballots.”
Mr. Dutton said he spoke with town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport yesterday, who in turn contacted Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington about the matter. Mr. Turkington confirmed yesterday he had spoken with the town attorney and planned to ask selectmen to write a letter that will be sent to Gov. Deval Patrick asking him to sponsor a bill allowing the legislature to certify the election results.
Normally such an act would need to come as a home rule petition authorized by voters at town meeting, but a special provision allows the governor to sponsor a bill that would certify the election results. “It’s not entirely unprecedented, even in Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Turkington said.
Brian McNiff, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Secretary of State William Francis Galvin, said a failure to properly publish a ballot or warrant has happened before. “It’s not all that common, but not all that rare,” he said.
Mr. McNiff said the legislature considers the circumstances surrounding an election on a case-by-case basis before deciding whether to certify an election. “Every case is different from another, it’s not automatic that [the election] will be certified,” he said.