John O’Brien, Phil Cammann and the district’s attorney Brad Pinsky discussed the vote at a meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.
Update, 10:15 a.m., December 11
By Stephen J. Kotz
The two candidates in the disputed Bridgehampton fire commissioner election have agreed to a rematch on January 20.
Results of Tuesday’s election were first delayed because of questions surrounding a confusing ballot. After John O’Brien was declared the winner by one vote over Phil Cammann, election workers, while reviewing voting records, raiseed the question of whether two voters who cast ballots lived in Bridgehampton.
Brad Pinsky, the district’s attorney, said it was determined that the two voters did not live in the district, throwing the outcome in doubt.
The two voters apparently voted for Mr. O’Brien becasue Mr. Pinsky said if only those two were thrown out, the election would have swung to Mr. Cammann. He added, though, that the results could have been challenged successfully in court, so both candidates agreed to the second runoff.
A second vote on a proposition to extend the vesting period for the district’s volunteer pension plan from one to five years of service has not yet been scheduled.
Voting will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse.
It’s a tie. We have a winner. No, wait a minute. Those were the messages coming from the Bridgehampton Fire District on Wednesday after election officials, citing a confusing ballot, were unable to declare a winner in the commissioner race that pitted former chief and longtime firefighter John O’Brien against paramedic Phil Cammann.
After a meeting with the two candidates, district secretary Barbara Roesel and the district’s attorney, Brad Pinsky, on Wednesday afternoon, poll workers Harry Halsey, Jean Smith and Barbara Damiecki, who reviewed three ballots that had given them pause Tuesday night, said they were ready to certify Mr. O’Brien the winner by a single vote over Mr. Cammann.
But less than a half hour later, Mr. Pinsky informed reporters covering the meeting by telephone that officials were questioning the residency of two voters. Given the razor sharp margin that had Mr. O’Brien receiving 91 votes and Mr. Cammann 90, that could force the whole election to be thrown out.
Mr. Pinsky said he would research the district’s options but could not provide a timetable for when he would have an answer.
Earlier on Wednesday, after reviewing a number of ballots, Mr. Pinsky said the district would have to hold another vote on a proposition seeking to require that volunteers turn in five years of service before being vested in the district’s length of service pension plan. They are currently vested after only one year.
But the ballot, which directed voters to place a X or check mark “in front” of their choice, only had a line following the Yes line and nothing following the No line, making it difficult, if not impossible, for election officials to clearly decipher the intention of voters.
Earl Gandal, who ran unopposed for district clerk, received 108 votes, to win election, but there were 46 write-in votes, including 42 for outgoing Clerk Charles Butler, who was not seeking another term.
Late last year, the Board of Fire Commissioners, citing unspecified irregularities in bookkeeping procedures stripped Mr. Butler of most of his duties and his salary. He has since filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the district.
After the polls closed Tuesday night, officials spent nearly two hours counting and recounting the ballots before throwing up their hands in frustration, saying they had a tie vote, pending a ruling on three questionable ballots.
At one point, workers, who counted the ballots behind a closed door in the meeting room where the vote took place and barred the public from entering, said it appeared Mr. O’Brien had won by a single vote. After another count, they concluded it was a tie.
Before giving up, they called Mr. Pinsky, who lives in Syracuse, seeking his advice twice. The second time, he asked that someone call Mr. O’Brien’s home to summon him to the firehouse so he and Mr. Cammann, who was already present, could take part in a conference call to try to declare a winner.
The candidates, Mr. Pinsky, who planned to be in Bridgehampton anyway, and election workers agreed to return to the firehouse at 1 p.m. on Wednesday to try to resolve the matter.
Mr. O’Brien said the problem surrounded a number of ballots that the workers thought might have to be thrown out because they were improperly filled out. Mr. O’Brien said there were cases in which voters tried to write in candidates but did not add an X or check mark after the name.
“If you wrote someone’s name, obviously you wanted to vote for them,” he said, suggesting that the whole election be declared null and void and a second vote be scheduled.
Mr. Cammann, who watched the vote counting with his father, Fred Cammann, and a reporter, said it came down to “maybe three ballots” that were questionable.
Mr. Cammann on Tuesday had pointed out problems with the ballot, including those with the proposition that Mr. Pinsky cited on Wednesday. Other problems. Mr. Cammann’s name was misspelled, and while voters were asked to mark with an X or check mark in front of the names of the candidates they supported, the blank line actually followed the candidates’ names. Mr. Gandal’s name had been handwritten on the original ballot, which was then copied for distribution to voters.