Updated August 10
During a Wednesday, August 3, meeting, the Aquinnah select board unanimously approved town clerk Gabriella Camilleri’s request to have a police presence during the state primary and state elections, which take place at the town hall from 7 am to 8 pm on September 6 and November 8 respectively. The officer would also stay during the vote counting until 10 pm.
In an email to the board, which was read aloud during the meeting by board chair Juli Vanderhoop, Camilleri stated in the almost five years as the town clerk, she had “never felt any concern for my safety or the safety of our poll workers or voters.” However, “some of the negative tone coming from certain groups” regarding the elections and voting system led Camilleri to make the request.
“Oh, yeah … I can see her concern,” board member Gary Haley said after seeing an example Camilleri put from another town, which read “(expletive) you Biden cheated” scrawled on a vote by mail application form.
Camilleri wrote in an email to Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison and Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belain that these examples are “while not dangerous, this kind of reaction is not something I or anyone who is going to be working on election day want to deal with.”
Belain told the board the request for an increased security was “no problem,” although it may need to be a detail officer rather than an officer on duty who is posted at the polls.
Camilleri told The Times she was notified about the negativity from the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association on Monday. She said many other town clerks in the state are also asking for a police presence during the state primary and elections per a section of the VOTES Act, which made changes to the election process (e.g. vote by mail) from the pandemic. A police presence is allowed if permission is given from the select board, town council or city council where the request was made. Camilleri said the examples she received were accusations of election theft during 2020 presidential election that Conway and New Bedford received recently.
PBS News Hour reported that poll workers have faced harassment and even death threats in other parts of the country.
Camilleri also said the majority of public records requests Massachusetts towns have been receiving were about the validity of the election results. She said many of these types of requests are made anonymously or with a fake name like “Mad As Hell.” Town clerks are legally required to respond, and sometimes the material can contain voter registration information. This can contain sensitive information like names and addresses.
“It’s a lot of information a lot of people don’t realize is so readily available,” Camilleri said.
Although Camilleri believes the polls will be safe, she wanted to take precautionary measures.
“I do know there are some pretty strong emotions and opinions out there and I wouldn’t want someone to come in with a chip on their shoulder ready to engage in that kind of conversation during the elections,” Camilleri told The Times. “I want to just keep it safe and secure … basically the whole state is getting ready for some negative backlash.”
Camilleri added that most Aquinnah voters do not belong to a political party. More information for Aquinnah voters, such as early voting days and vote by mail application deadline, is available on the town website.
In other business, the board unanimously approved the Aquinnah Cultural Center’s request to hold a film screening at Aquinnah Circle. According to an email sent by the center’s program director NaDaizja Bolling, two 15-minute films called “Bounty” and “First Light” will be shown, alongside discussion and opening music by flutist Carol Vandal and the Black Brook Singers. The event will take place on Monday, August 8, from 7:30 pm to 9 pm.
The board unanimously approved extending the land disposition agreement Aquinnah has with Island Housing Trust, originally signed in May, for affordable housing rental units on a lot located behind the town hall.
The board unanimously decided to send out notifications to leaseholders, including the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, about lease expirations and to set up meetings to discuss lease extensions. The rent will remain the same from the previous year.
The board signed a contract with Eric Kinsherf, a certified public accountant who has worked with the town before, to “provide remote training and support” for new treasurer Jamie Vanderhoop. The board had agreed to sign Kinsherf’s contract during a previous meeting, but the details were not finished until Wednesday. The contract states that the work is estimated to take 65 hours, and Kinsherf will be paid $150 per hour but the total payment is not to exceed $9,750.
The board voted 2-0 in favor of Jamie’s request to serve as both treasurer and as a member of the Aquinnah parks and recreation committee, an unpaid position, under the “small towns exemption.” Jamie said she consulted with the State Ethics Commission, who gave the green light as long as the board did as well. Juli, who is a member of the committee, abstained from voting.
The meeting happened on a Wednesday, not Tuesday.