WESTFORD — Officials will conduct a recount of a ballot question that was decided by a narrow margin during the Annual Town Election.
During a May 18 meeting, the Board of Registrars scheduled an official recount for Question 3, which asked whether the Town of Westford should observe the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, superseding local references to Columbus Day.
In order to request a recount, 10 voters from each of the town’s seven precincts must petition for a recount. One of the 10 signatures must be notarized as well.
Town Counsel, election workers and volunteers will oversee the process, according to Town Clerk Patty Dubey. Officials estimate the recount to take up to four hours.
The recount is also expected to incur some cost to the town, however, Dubey was unable to provide an exact figure at the time of reporting.
“I don’t know yet, [much of] the cost is [for] legal counsel to oversee it. I am getting some town clerks to come in and I may have to pay some of the workers,” she said. “We try and get some volunteers, but people deserve to be compensated for their time.”
Residents raise concerns of divisiveness, bias
Some Westford residents raised concerns over the results, where the question passed by just 15 votes. 1,068 residents voted in favor of the resolution on May 2, while 1,053 residents voted against it.
“Let’s do a recount and make sure things are OK,” Anthony DiLeo, chair of Save Columbus Day in Westford, told WestfordCAT.
He added, “we want to make sure every ballot is properly counted. Even if we win, it won’t change the fact that it is evenly split.”
Additionally, some residents raised concerns over the wording of the question originally presented to voters.
“The question was worded in a misleading, biased way which gave proponents an unfair advantage,” Kathy Lynch, First Middlesex Republican State Committee member told WestfordCAT. “The wording of the question should have been balanced, as suggested by some residents.”
Alternative wording was proposed ahead of the election during a listening session held by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee last summer. Suggestions such as recognizing both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day were proposed.
“This should not be an either/or question. People can celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on another day,” she said. “That solution takes away the need to have a question that divides the town.”
The question is a nonbinding public opinion advisory question. Even if the current results remain unchanged after the recount, advocates for Columbus Day can petition the Select Board to maintain the status quo.
“I don’t know what they’ll do. The thing to do is to possibly go to the Select Board meeting and discuss it with them,” DiLeo said. “We have not finalized that [or what we will do].”
Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution in Westford
The Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution was originally proposed during an Oct. 18, 2020 Special Town Meeting. The proposal failed to garner majority support, however, the resolution was later referred to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee for further consideration.
Proposed ballot language from the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee was later approved by the Select Board during an Aug. 23, 2022 meeting. The question was originally slated to appear on the Special Town Election ballot, however, it was later withdrawn from the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot over legal concerns.
Town Counsel told officials that a nonbinding resolution cannot be placed on a Special Town Election ballot and must appear on the regular Annual Town Election ballot.
“After consulting with Town Counsel, we learned that this ballot question can only appear on the annual local election ballot,” former Select Board Chair Andrea Peraner-Sweet said during a Sept. 27, 2022 Select Board meeting.
The resolution reflects a growing movement across Massachusetts as 20 other cities and towns such as Boston, Belmont, Newton and Wellesley among others have adopted the holiday.
“We are grateful that ballot Question 3 was approved by the voters on May 2 and we look forward to the completion of the process,” Joe Diamond, Chair of the DEI Committee, said in a statement to WestfordCAT. “It is a privilege to be in a position to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in Westford and to have inspired such an important conversation.”
The recount is scheduled for May 24 at 10 a.m. at the J.V. Fletcher Library.
Managing Editor Ben Domainge contributed to the reporting of this piece.