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Mayor and Board of Elections reach peace

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Fences have been mended, hatchets have been buried and the elections will go on.

After nearly a month of trading jabs, Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and Jefferson County Board of Elections officials seem to have reached a separate peace on the city’s nonpartisan election law.

According to Democratic Election Commissioner Babette M. Hall, she and Republican Election Commissioner Jerry O. Eaton had a phone conversation with Mr. Graham on Thursday morning during which the two sides reached “a little bit more of an understanding.”

The issue came to the fore in early September after a misinterpretation of the city’s original 1920 law led to a ballot snafu that sent elections officials scrambling to reprint and resend regular and absentee ballots mere days before the primary was scheduled.

Mr. Graham noticed the error on a sample ballot and posted an alert to his blog.

Board of Elections officials reviewed the law and determined that the mayor was correct before working to fix their error.

They did, however, take umbrage with the fact that the mayor drew attention to the error publicly instead of calling them first to allow them time to formulate a response.

Board officials then took aim at the city’s 1920 election law, which they said was woefully outdated, only to learn later that there was a 1993 version that repealed and replaced the 1920 version.

The new law addressed some, but not all, of the problems board officials had identified in the 1920 version. Issues with absentee ballots and optical scan voting machines remained.

Ms. Hall and Mr. Eaton said the entire mess could have been avoided if the city had been more cooperative in getting them the current version of the law and explaining its provisions.

Mr. Graham countered by saying that the law, which was enacted by the state at the behest of the city, was available from the state and that it was not the city’s job to run the election.

But now it appears the warring factions are content to let bygones be bygones and move forward with plans for the general election, though a meeting may occur soon between Board of Elections officials and the city manager and city clerk to address concerns about the law.

Board officials need to have “an internal discussion before meeting with the city,” Ms. Hall said.

For his part, Mr. Graham would neither confirm nor deny that any telephone conversation took place between him and the Board of Elections on Thursday.

“My position is I don’t discuss who I have phone calls with and I don’t discuss the content of phone calls,” he said.

However, under the Freedom of Information Act, all documentation of official phone calls is a matter of public record and must be released if requested.

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