Select Board Says “No” to August 1 Recall Election

Reading, MA — At a specially called meeting at 4:00 pm on May 29, the Select Board voted down a motion, 1-3, to hold the recall election of board member Vanessa Alvarado on August 1. Select Board member Carlo Bacci, the maker of the motion, was the only member to vote in the affirmative. After Wednesday night’s discussion on the matter, member Anne Landry said that she had been leaning towards the August 1 date but suggested that she was now swayed by the opinion of Board of Health chair Emmy Dove regarding the safest way to hold the election.

Dove shared her belief that the double exposure risk from having two separate elections was too great to justify the August 1 date. Dove believes that a double election to be held on the state’s primary date of September 1 is preferable. “It’s a no brainer.” Dove declared. “Is double the risk tolerable to you?” She asked. “To me, it’s not.” Board of Health member Kevin Sexton commented that he had never heard Dove “put her foot down” so vehemently on an issue prior to this.

Dove did agree that separate elections could potentially be safer for election workers if there would be guarantees that the workers would only work one of the two election days. Town Clerk Laura Gemme stated that there was little chance that this could happen. Gemme also shared that she had been coordinating with the Facilities Department on reconfiguring the Hawkes Field House to spread the precinct locations apart from each other, easing distancing concerns for workers and voters. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur also suggested that voters might be asked to line up for the polling place in their cars, rather than in a line outside or in the building itself. “Like we have done with mask distributions,” LeLacheur added.

Board of Health member Eleanor Shonkoff also suggested that research has shown that health risks from elections were greatly reduced if 75% or more of the voters voted by mail. Allowing this to occur, however, is up to the state legislature. The House passed a bill earlier this week which expanded the use of mail-in ballots through August 1, but it is unclear if the Senate version of the bill will include the measure. The Select Board was in agreement that pressure should be placed on the town’s legislative delegation to include the expansion of mail-in voting, even extending it out through September 1.

Landry, Select Board chair Mark Dockser, and member Karen Herrick all stated a preference for a recall election set for September 1, while Bacci argued that the board had “delayed this long enough.” Dockser seemed to take exception to the comment regarding delays stating, “The board did not have sufficient information to offer the safest election possible during the pandemic.” He also reminded the board again that legislation concerning elections is still not complete.

Due to Town Charter provisions, any recall election has to be held 64 – 90 days from the Select Board vote, this sets the earliest date the board could vote to approve a September 1 recall election date as June 3. Dockser affirmed that a vote on the September 1 recall election will be placed on the agenda for the June 3 meeting.

The Select Board adjourned at 5:45 pm.

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