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Petitioners ask Amherst Board of Registrars to examine disqualified signatures for Jones Library project

  • Jones Library in Amherst GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Monday, May 03, 2021

AMHERST — After falling 22 signatures short of the number needed to force the Town Council to revote its support for the $36.3 million Jones Library renovation and expansion project, and possibly get a townwide referendum on the spending, petitioners seeking a “voter veto” are asking the Board of Registrars to intervene.

A group of residents who launched the petition effort following the council’s 10-2 vote in favor of borrowing $15.75 million for the project are calling on the registrars to review and certify more than 100 petition signatures that were not counted in the initial examination completed by the town clerk’s office April 21.

“We have studied the petition records and found many cases in which registered voters were inappropriately disqualified,” Carol Gray, a lead organizer of the petition, said in a statement.

The petition needed 22 more signatures, or 864, to achieve the veto provision of the town charter. That requires 5% of registered voters, as of the most recent town election, to sign, and would then compel the council to revote. If it did not overturn its original decision, the the measure would go to a townwide referendum.

Gray said she has not yet heard back from the registrars as to whether they will take up the examination of contested signatures. Those seeking a revote on the library project supplied the board with signed affidavits from 31 residents that their signatures were not counted, despite their having signed the petitions.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Tuesday that he expects the town clerk’s office, which is responsible for certifying signatures, to provide a reply on behalf of the registrars.

The petitioners and town representatives were to be at Hampshire Superior Court this past Wednesday at 10 a.m., where Judge John A. Agostini was to oversee a hearing on an emergency injunction, after he rejected a request from petitioners to move the hearing until the week of May 10.

The injunction asked to extend the petitioning deadline by one week, for petitioners to be able to gather electronic signatures, and to reduce the number of signatures required.

Town attorney Lauren Goldberg of KP Law, in an initial response seeking to expand the in-person capacity limits for the court hearing, wrote that a successful voter veto will hinder the $13.87 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and $6.6 million being sought from private donors, and will cost the town an estimated $20,000 to hold a special election before June 30.

Gray argues the signatures were invalidated for no good reason, and questions whether some were eliminated due to an address used, or that the signatures were too light on the paper or the names were “foreign-looking.”

“Having a signature that might be difficult to read does not mean that a person loses their constitutional rights to petition their government under the First Amendment and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights,” Gray said.

The request to the registrars contends that the certifications of signatures by the town clerk’s office was “flawed in fundamental ways.”

“We are optimistic that the Board of Registrars will conduct a careful and detailed review of all the disqualified signatures, including comparing signatures and addresses submitted to entries in the voter registration database and voter registration forms,” said petitioner Marla Jamate.