PITTSTON — Two paid election clerks have been removed from working at Monday’s municipal election after a divided Select Board vote that came in response to concerns the clerks are biased because they have campaigned for one of the candidates and might tamper with ballots. 

Board Chair Kerri Ferris, whose term expires after the upcoming election, said the list of the approved workers for the town election was brought to her and the Select Board earlier this week after asking the town clerk for the list.

Ferris said she saw that two of the clerks had “openly campaigned” for Steve Costello, one of the Select Board candidates in Monday’s election.

The two ballot clerks — Cheryl Peaslee and Vicki Kelley — were then the subject of a motion Wednesday night when the three-member Select Board voted 2-1 to remove them from working at the March 20 election. The motion said they are “to be replaced” by another pair of workers for their assigned shifts.

Ferris said Thursday the board did not consult with the town’s lawyer before taking the vote.

“From my perspective, the issue was clear, and I feel like I didn’t need anyone to quote any statute,” Ferris said. “We needed to make sure the people involved with watching the ballots, or touching the ballots, or anything to do with the people’s vote, is unbiased, and I didn’t feel the need to reach out for that.”


But the decision drew criticism from one of the clerks and a current Select Board member. While Ferris and Jane Hubert voted in favor of removing the clerks, board member Jean Ambrose voted against the motion in what she called an “inappropriate” motion and a “personnel issue” at Wednesday night’s Select Board meeting. Peaslee is Ambrose’s sister.

“This is inappropriate for the Select Board to do publicly, and it was taken care of this morning. The clerk took care of whatever was the problem,” said Ambrose, referring to the Pittston town clerk removing Peaslee’s and Kelley’s names from the list of election workers earlier in the day. “You are calling into discussion the citizens of the town and if they have the integrity to open and close the ballot box.” 

Peaslee said Wednesday night she was glad the meeting was being recorded “because now I have probable cause that you are demeaning me in public, and I will press this in legal grounds.”

“Kerri, you are done,” Peaslee said to Ferris. “You can take your little vote and know I’m getting a copy of this tape and taking it as a legal matter from this point on. Keep digging a hole, or vote and settle it down.”

The Select Board meeting drew about 30 people, some of whom agreed with Ferris’ decision to bring up the issue, calling it a “taxpayer’s right” to know. Others shouted at Ferris to “drop the subject,” but she said, “There should be no argument” over the transparency of an election. 

The list provided by Town Clerk Deb Barry showed the town has 14 available ballot and election clerks, and Barry has 13 scheduled to come in throughout the day and night Monday for election-related shifts.


The town pays election clerks $15 an hour. They are appointed by the clerk on a two-year basis and approved by the Select Board. They are chosen in pairs to ensure there are equal numbers of registered Democrats and Republicans. 

Joe Caputo, Costello’s opponent for the Select Board seat, spoke on the issue at the Wednesday night meeting, saying he also called for removal of the two election clerks. Caputo said Kelley and Peaslee are helping Costello get elected by going from house to house as they campaign for him and by sending out flyers on his behalf. 

On Thursday, Caputo presented the Kennebec Journal with what he said were evidence of the clerks’ campaigning: A sign showing support for Costello on a back window of Peaslee’s car, and a “Vote for Steve Costello” campaign flyer with a handwritten note from Kelley to a resident saying Costello is “a great guy, a hard-worker, loves Pittston, is fair minded.”

“I asked for the list because I was concerned the chosen people to work the election are biased and invested in the chosen candidate,” Caputo said. “When I received the list of workers, my concerns were confirmed.” 

Contacted on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Maine Municipal Association, which provides resources and advice to member municipalities, had no comment on the matter.

Since Pittston does not have a town manager, state law says, “the Select Board as a body shall exercise all administrative and executive powers of the town.” There are 2,371 registered voters in Pittston.


Those who are not able to serve as ballot clerks are employees of a political party, a candidate of the election or a relative of someone running and someone that has “direct pecuniary interest” in a candidate, according to state law. 

Ferris said she asked Barry, Pittston’s town clerk, to remove Peaslee and Kelley from the election worker list on Monday, but Barry denied her request. Barry declined to comment Thursday when contacted by the Kennebec Journal.

It was not until Wednesday morning, Ferris said, that Peaslee was finally removed from the list, but Kelley’s name remained on the list until the Select Board’s motion Wednesday night to remove both.

“The clerk was well aware at least one individual was working toward an outcome (of a candidate), and they were chosen,” Ferris said at Wednesday night’s meeting. “Tonight is to make sure we are not OK with having these individuals work on the election.

“We want to make sure we are above suspicion, and there should be no argument. Someone that argues it’s inappropriate is appalling. We are asking it to run it above suspicion. It’s that simple.” 

The ballot vote between Caputo and Costello is set for noon to 7 p.m. Monday at the Town Office at 38 Whitefield Road, and the annual Town Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:45 a.m. Saturday at the Pittston-Randolph Consolidated School at 1023 Pittston School St.

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