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Watertown City Council primary ballots must be reprinted; absentee voters affected

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As if the Watertown City Council race weren’t complicated enough, the Jefferson County Board of Elections is reprinting the official ballots just days before the Tuesday primary after a serious flaw was identified.

The biggest effect of the problem is on voters who have received absentee ballots, including 105 who already have cast those ballots. They will have to send in the new ballot, election officials said.

The ballots instructed voters to select any four of the six candidates running for two open seats this November. Instead, the ballots should say, “Vote for any TWO,” according to Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham.

“There are six people running for two seats. ... You vote for a number equal to the number of seats being filled,” Mr. Graham said.

Board of Elections officials agree with Mr. Graham’s interpretation and have reordered machine ballots and absentee ballots.

“We made an honest mistake,” Republican Election Commissioner Jerry O. Eaton said.

Mr. Eaton, along with Democratic Election Commissioner Babette M. Hall, said the revised ballots would be sent out to absentee voters today. Those voters must return the new ballot to have their vote counted, they said.

As for anyone who already has voted and fails to return the correct ballot, the legal ramifications of that scenario are being reviewed, Mr. Eaton said.

Voting machines will have to be reprogrammed and tested to ensure that they can accommodate the new ballots.

Ballots also have been changed to list the candidates alphabetically, another provision of the city’s 1920 nonpartisan primary election law that was not met in the original batch of ballots.

“We weren’t here the last time it happened. Not that that’s an excuse on our part, but we thought we were doing the right thing,” Mr. Eaton said.

The last City Council primary was in 2005, when five candidates ran for two seats.

“It’s an unfortunate error on our part,” Mr. Eaton said. “It’s up to us to correct it. It will be right on election day.”

The Board of Elections has ordered 500 absentee ballots reprinted at 30 cents apiece for a cost of $150. The new election day ballots will cost the city an additional $3,000.

On Tuesday night, the mayor brought up the subject of the snafu at the Watertown City Council meeting when he announced that he “saved the primary election.” The remark drew a response from all four challenging candidates and others in attendance. In acknowledging the mayor’s assessment, some smiled or laughed.

Mr. Graham told the audience that he was worried that some voters who submitted absentee ballots still might be disenfranchised.

Although he understands that mistakes happen, the mayor said, “I encourage the B of E to do everything it can.”

Times staff writer Craig Fox contributed to this report.

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