Recounts set for Waterford, Montville in 38th District Democratic primary

Waterford and Montville officials say they are preparing for recounts next week after a tight Democratic primary for the 38th state House District seat.

Currently, only eight votes separate Waterford Representative Town Meeting member Baird Welch-Collins and area nurse manager Patrick Murphy. As of Thursday, the secretary of the state website shows unofficial tallies of 616 votes for Welch-Collins and 608 for Murphy; Nick Gauthier, a labor organizer and political activist, garnered 449 votes in the contest.

Montville's recount is set for Monday at 8 a.m. at Town Hall. Waterford's is planned for Tuesday at 9 a.m. at Town Hall.

The 38th District encompasses Waterford and part of Montville. The eventual winner will face two-term incumbent state Rep. Kathleen McCarty, a Republican. Welch-Collins' father, Bill Collins, challenged McCarty as a Green Party candidate four years ago.

Murphy did not concede after initial totals this week showed Welch-Collins with a 12-vote advantage. State law mandates that a recount, or "recanvass on a close vote," is required when fewer than 20 votes separate candidates.

"Every vote counts," Murphy said on Thursday. "I'll be really excited to see the final results."

Murphy said the competitive race shows the candidates energized area Democrats. He said "to get so close" without the party endorsement — which Welch-Collins received — "is really huge and speaks to the hard work my campaign and volunteer staff put in."

Welch-Collins said his campaign did "not expect the recount to change the totals in any significant way."

On Wednesday, Waterford Head Moderator of Elections Cheryl Larder sent the candidates a notice of recanvass for the returns of the voting machines, absentee ballots and write-in ballots used in Waterford's four voting districts.

Montville Town Clerk and Head Moderator Katie Sandberg sent the candidates a notice of recanvass on Thursday, noting only voting Districts 1 and 3 (out of Montville's six districts) will be recounted, as they cover the portions of Montville in the 38th state House District.

"We'll do a hand count on those and absentees," she said Thursday. "Hopefully, it will be no more than an hour or two."

The secretary of the state results show 131 votes for Murphy in Montville, compared to 69 for Welch-Collins and 56 for Gauthier. Welch-Collins received 547 votes in Waterford, with Murphy earning 477 and Gauthier 393.

Welch-Collins has served as a substitute teacher in Montville and soon will teach social studies at Norwich Free Academy.

He said earlier this week that to beat McCarty, he needed to "reach out to my opponents" and unify Democrats' efforts.

If the primary results hold up, both Welch-Collins and McCarty have pledged to run respectful campaigns.

Gauthier says that, no matter who wins the primary, he will push to support Democratic candidates and progressive issues statewide.

About 26 percent of Montville's 2,900 registered Democrats and Republicans turned out to vote in this week's primaries, according to the state. Waterford saw 1,449 of its 4,051 registered Republicans and Democrats — almost 36 percent — cast a ballot.

Volunteers in both towns said several unaffiliated and independent voters showed up to vote without realizing they must be registered as a Republican or Democrat to vote in the primary.

b.kail@theday.com

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