WATERVILLE — The city is moving ahead with a recount of the ballots cast in a referendum on banning plastic shopping bags after Mayor Nick Isgro led the way in gathering enough signatures from residents to force the votes to be looked at again.

Meanwhile, the group behind the ban on plastic shopping bags at large retail stores said they are confident the vote will remain in their favor, and the recount is “another attempt by the mayor to silence the voice of voters.”

“When the (City Council) put this on the ballot, the mayor vetoed it and tried to prevent Waterville from voting on it,” Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition member Todd Martin said. “Now we’re seeing an effort to try and limit the voices of voters by claiming voter fraud.”

Waterville residents voted 3,052-2,906 last week to approve a new city ordinance that would prohibit retail and commercial stores of 10,000 square feet or more from distributing plastic shopping bags.

The vote passed by a narrow margin of 146 votes. At the same time, more than 160 ballots have been challenged, almost all of them on grounds that Colby College students did not complete their voter registrations properly before casting ballots.

On Tuesday, Isgro and Waterville School Board member Julian Payne handed in over 100 signatures from residents asking for a recount, according to a post the mayor made on his official Facebook page. He did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

“This morning Democrat and school board member Julian Payne and I dropped off the required signatures along with a $250 deposit check to begin the process of sending almost 200 ballots that have been challenged due to improper registrations that showed no physical address here in the City of Waterville to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court,” Isgro wrote. “A small price to pay to protect our democracy and preserve the integrity of our elections!”

City Clerk Patti Dubois confirmed that 117 signatures had been handed in, which means the city will move forward with a recount.

It’s unclear how the challenged ballots would affect the recount process.

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Students were given the chance to update their voter registrations at the polls last week, and the challenged ballots were counted in the original vote tally.

During the recount, though, the ballots will be set aside and will be looked at only if it’s found they would make a difference in the outcome, Dubois said.

She said she is seeking clarity from City Attorney Bill Lee on what would come next, but she believes the ballots would be looked at by the court system to determine their validity and whether they should be counted.

In addition to the referendum, Waterville also will be recounting the ballots cast in the Ward 1 City Council race, in which Democrat Mike Morris defeated Republican Catherine Weeks by four votes, 346-342.

That recount is scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Waterville Police Department.

A date and a location for the referendum recount have not been scheduled yet.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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