BERLIN – All 8,400 ballots for the new Ocean Pines Community Center referendum must be re-sent after a postal system error caused some filled out ballots to be returned to the sender.
The results of the referendum will not be counted until the end of May, with the new deadline to return the ballots moved to May 31, by the close of business.
The trouble arose when software used to sort business reply mail did not identify the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) address and sent some ballots back to the senders. Apparently, the postal service failed to update the records in the database.
“The post office goofed. They admit they made a mistake,” said OPA President Glenn Duffy.
There is no way to know how many ballots were returned to sender.
“We had five people call us and say, ‘hey, we got the thing returned,’” Duffy said.
The post office software does not track the number of pieces of mail returned, according to Postmaster Ken Carter.
While resending the ballots is time consuming, the Board of Directors felt it was necessary.
Duffy said he was disappointed that the ballot had to be sent out a second time, but that it had to be done.
“The subject is much too important to compromise the integrity of the vote count,” said Tom Olson, OPA general manager.
The OPA will not hold another public hearing on the subject, despite some concerns about the bylaws requiring a hearing within 15 days of a referendum ballot mailing. The ballot question will not change, however, so a new hearing is not required.
“This is not a new referendum subject,” said Olson. “It’s the same information just being sent out again.”
The post office will pay printing and mailing costs for the second ballots.
Olson said that envelopes will be clearly marked with “second referendum,” and be printed in blue ink, to differentiate them from the first ballot, which was printed in black ink.
An explanatory letter from the OPA Board of Directors will also accompany the new ballots, which were to be mailed out to property owners by May 4.
“There shouldn’t be any confusion,” Olson said.
The roughly 3,500 ballots already received will be destroyed.
Duffy said a further two-week delay would not cause significant setbacks to construction if the vote approves going ahead with the community center.