BERLIN — The death of mayoral candidate Robert Haynes last week has forced a change to the ballots for next week’s Berlin city elections.
Haynes was challenging incumbent Mayor Paul Grenier, who is running for a seventh consecutive two-year term in the office.
The founder and pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship Church and a retired Army sergeant, Haynes died Wednesday, Oct. 20 from COVID-19. The family did not say whether he was vaccinated.
Haynes was well known and respected in the community for helping those in need, and led the church in establishing the largest food pantry in the county and hosting free community dinners.
His wife, Wendy Haynes, who serves as co-pastor of the church, said her husband was a man of faith and was moved to serve people and his community because of his love for God.
She said her husband decided to run for mayor to be a voice for those who felt unheard.
Grenier expressed his sorrow at Haynes’s passing, saying he deeply respected and admired Pastor Rob and calling his death a huge loss.
“He was truly a community treasure and had a huge impact on the lives he touched,” Grenier said in a statement.
Grenier, who had initially not planned to run for re-election, said he made the decision after discussing it with this family.
In an interview about his run, Grenier said, “I believe that there is a lot of unfinished business that needs to be taken care of in the city as we finally begin to move out of the funk of the mill closures and Issacson (Structural Steel) closures. There is a real bright future for the city,” adding he wants to be part of the redevelopment of the city.
Word that the ballots would need to be changed created consternation among some of Haynes’ supporters on social media.
City Manager Jim Wheeler responded to the complaints with a statement, saying Berlin City Clerk Shelli Fortin on Oct. 21 contacted the Secretary of State’s office about Haynes’death, and was told to remove his name from the ballot.
Wheeler further said, “We understand community members’ desire to have Pastor Haynes’s name remain on the ballot. He was a cherished and valued member of the community. In a time when most people want nothing to do with public office, Pastor Haynes did; and he wanted to make a difference. What a great example he has set for all of us.”
According to Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan, New Hampshire law requires that Haynes' name be removed from the ballots for the upcoming election.
Scanlan told The Berlin Sun that the removal is required by N.H. RSA 669:22, which allows for the withdrawal of a candidate only if the candidate dies or no longer qualifies for the office “because of age, domicile, or incapacitating physical disability.”
In such cases, the law requires the town clerk to “not print the name of that candidate on the ballot.”
Berlin City Clerk Shelli Fortin said when she heard of Haynes’ death she contacted the Secretary of State's office they instructed her to have the ballots reprinted.
In the past, removing the name could be accomplished by pasting or taping over a printed ballot, but because such a measure would interfere with modern voting machines, Wheeler said, “new ballots need to be ordered and printed with the election less than two weeks away.”
Scanlan said the two weeks is enough time to reprint the ballots.
Fortin said the city will need to reprint 3,000 ballots, estimating the cost at around $700.
She said 44 absentee ballots have already been sent out and that there would not be enough time before the election to print new absentee ballots and have them sent to voters in time for the Nov. 2 election so those ballots would be left as is and would be counted as such.
Supporters of Haynes have started a campaign to write the pastor in for election as mayor.
Even though Haynes' name will not appear on the ballot, Scanlan said he could technically still win if enough voters write him in. If that happened, Scanlan said, since Haynes could not take the seat, a vacancy would be declared for the position and the city council, could appoint a replacement to fill the unexpired term (two years).
Scanlan said specifically how the vacancy would be filled is up to the city charter, although he added that he wasn’t aware of any state or local office that requires a special election to be held.
The charter does give the council the option of ordering a special election or appointing one of its members to fill the vacancy.
Section 12a of the charter states:
“In case of the temporary absence of the mayor or in the event of a vacancy in the office of mayor due to death, resignation or removal from the city occurring within six (6) months of the next city biennial election, the council may elect one (1) of their number chairman, who shall have all the powers and perform all the duties of mayor during his temporary absence or disability, or during such vacancy. If a vacancy in the office of mayor shall occur at a time more than six (6) months before the next city biennial election, the council may order a special election to fill such vacancy for the unexpired term.”
Fortin estimated that the cost to conduct a special election would be about $8,700.