ST. ALBANS – A former selectman is raising questions about the legality of the voting procedures used in his town for the past 12 years, including the one that put him in office.
Brian Hanson said this week that by not following the letter of the law, St. Albans elections have been illegal since 1994.
He recently asked state officials to force a new election, which they refused to do, but he said he will not fund a private legal action.
“I feel we’ve made a mistake all these years, and I would like, of course, to see the most recent election vacated,” Hanson said. “There is no reason not to do it right.”
Hanson admitted Monday that he had a motivation for his questions – his son, Daniel Hanson, was defeated in this year’s election.
St. Albans officials were unaware of Hanson’s concerns and said Tuesday they were launching a review of the town’s procedures.
At the core of the issue is the timing of the election of a town moderator.
Up until the last decade or so, many small Maine communities that held annual town meetings elected their officials from the floor of those gatherings. Most towns, however, have changed to Australian balloting, with voting taking place on the day before the annual meeting.
Converting to Australian balloting, however, also changed the procedures towns were required to use.
State law requires that the moderator be elected before handing out ballots to voters. In most cases, this happens on a Friday morning, just as the polls open.
That moderator then serves throughout the day at the polls and again at the annual town meeting the next day.
In St. Albans, however, the moderator routinely has been elected at the town meeting and is not in place during voting.
“This raises questions as to whether the elections were legal and whether those elected had authority to perform their duties over the past 12 years,” Hanson said.
Hanson said town selectmen should be cautious, particularly in light of a Piscataquis County Superior Court ruling that found that Greenville’s municipal elections were invalid because the polling place closed an hour earlier than is customary. The early closing prevented some residents from casting their votes.
A quick check of several area communities revealed that most comply with state requirements, including Detroit, Corinna, Palmyra and Newport.
Paula Clark of the Newport town office said: “When a town meeting is bifurcated, with elections coming the day before, we elect the moderator prior to the opening of the polls. He then continues in his role at the town meeting.”
Joan Bradley, registrar of voters at Palmyra, also was town clerk in Detroit for six years.
“We always elect our moderator on Friday, in both towns,” she said. “We set aside 15 minutes of extra time and include that in the public notice sent out. The moderator, by law, is in charge of both the elections and the town meeting.”
Hanson, upon discovering the statute requirements after reading the wording of Detroit’s public notice last spring, petitioned the Maine Attorney General’s Office, citing faulty election practices, and requested that a court order be issued to force a new election for 2006 officers.
The Attorney General’s Office refused to vacate the election. The Maine Municipal Association says the issue is a tempest in a teapot.
“Most towns are aware of the statute requirements and comply completely,” MMA Communications Director Michael Starn said Tuesday.
“It is a confusing and perplexing statute,” he admitted, but said MMA has not felt it necessary to notify its membership of the statute details because most comply.
Meanwhile, St. Albans Town Manager Larry Post said Tuesday he was unaware of Hanson’s concerns and had not been contacted by the AG’s office regarding the petition for redress.
“Clearly, if this is how we conducted ourselves for the past 12 years, we felt we were doing things in a legal and proper manner,” Post said. “We will now review the state statutes and ensure that we conform to the law.”