Groton Board of Education winner, loser reversed after calculating error found

Head moderator Jeanne Rogers administers the oath of office to volunteers assembled for a recount of ballots in several town races Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, at the Groton Town Hall Annex. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Head moderator Jeanne Rogers administers the oath of office to volunteers assembled for a recount of ballots in several town races Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, at the Groton Town Hall Annex. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Groton — Incumbent Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Rita Volkmann, who was reported to have lost Tuesday's election, actually won a four-year term, and candidate Jay Weitlauf, who was reported to have won the election, actually lost, due to a calculating error at the registrar's office.

Republican Registrar Kristin Venditti said Thursday that the total votes for Groton's seven districts were reported correctly on Election Day, and were entered into a spreadsheet correctly.

The spreadsheet is programmed to add up the totals for candidates vertically — to include the machine count, absentee ballots and hand-counted ballots — and horizontally, to include all the districts.  

Venditti said she typed in the formulas quickly on Election Day, and did not realize that it left out Districts 1 and 2 in its vote totals for Volkmann and another candidate, Lee White.

As a result, the totals showed that Volkmann, who actually received the second highest number of votes, had lost her bid. Weitlauf was reported to have won a seat.

"We knew that the numbers we were putting in there were accurate because we had people checking," Venditti said.

But she later learned that the formula left out the two districts for the last two candidates for Board of Education.

A new list of correct numbers was being sent to the Secretary of State's office Thursday, she said.

Volkmann said she was relieved to have won and glad to be serving. She was at Democratic Party headquarters for Election Day and was told she had won, she said. The Republican headquarters also reported the figures correctly.

Then Volkmann saw a news report that she had lost the election. Town Clerk Betsy Mouksawsher reported draft numbers provided by the registrar's office.

"What was confusing is I was the second highest (vote-getter)," Volkmann said. "I had the second highest totals. It wasn't that I was at the bottom and I was between the fourth and fifth person."

Volkmann initially was reported to have received 1,654 votes but actually got 2,168 and won a seat. White, initially reported to have 1,425 votes, actually received 1,893, but still lost.

Weitlauf's vote total did not change at 2,044 votes, but Volkmann's new vote total bumped him from fifth to sixth in line, with the top five candidates winning four-year terms.

"It's really awkward because everybody congratulates me. Did it get straightened out now?" Weitlauf said. "I mean, I don't even want to go outside now. I feel worse for Rita." 

Volkmann said she hopes Weitlauf can still serve the board in a two-year term.

Democratic school board Chairwoman Kim Watson and Republican incumbent Katrina Fitzgerald ran for four-year terms and two-year terms on the board and both won both seats; it was not immediately clear what term each would serve.

Volkmann ran for a two-year term and came within 10 votes of Watson. But Moukawsher said Volkmann waived her right to a recount as she is accepting the four-year term.

Watson and Fitzgerald will have to resign one of the seats, Moukawsher said. Then the parties would nominate, and the school board would appoint, a candidate from the same party to fill the vacancy.

Weitlauf received the next highest number of votes among Republicans for school board and was the only other Republican to run. Among Democrats, White received the next highest number of votes.

Groton meanwhile held recounts for candidates in several races because of close vote margins.

Election officials recounted the votes for Greg Grim and Bill Smith for Town Council; Joe Baril and Roscoe Merritt for Representative Town Meeting District 1; Juliette M. Parker, Cecelia Bonelli and Ludwig Pulaski for RTM District 2; Alicia T. Bauer and John A. Espada for RTM District 3; Patricia Wagner, Shawn D. Powers and Judith Strode for RTM District 4; and Gary Welles and Rosanne Kotowski for RTM District 5.

d.straszheim@theday.com

Twitter: @DStraszheim

Volunteers begin counting ballots to start the recount process for several town races Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, at the Groton Town Hall Annex. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Volunteers begin counting ballots to start the recount process for several town races Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, at the Groton Town Hall Annex. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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