Paul supporters 'freak out' town clerk
Vote-counting flub draws ire, threats
By RAY DUCKLER
January 12. 2008 12:20AM
Jennifer Call's eyes searched the office for nothing in particular. Her arms waved and her fear spilled out.
"This is where I grew up," Sutton's town clerk said yesterday. "This is my hometown, this is where my family is, and all of sudden, my name is being splashed across the internet as this horrible person. And the frightening part is, I don't know these people and they don't know me."
Call wants the nationwide army of boisterous Ron Paul supporters, believers in more conspiracy theories than Oliver Stone, to know that she's committed no crime.
Not treason, as the dozens of phone callers screamed. Not fraud, as the dozens of e-mails charged. Nothing.
Human error, by someone unknown, caused Call's office to claim Paul received zero votes from the town during Tuesday's first-in-the-nation primary.
Paul actually got a whopping 31 votes.
Out of 920 cast.
Launch an investigation. Alert the media.
The mistake was corrected early the next morning, but that hardly mattered. The Paul machine, upon reading the number in print, quickly went into counteroffensive mode.
This is luck at its worst. Screw up Rudy Giuliani's vote total. Or John McCain's. Or John Edwards's. Or Bill Richardson's.
But never, ever get anything wrong when it comes to Paul and his voting tally. If you do, fans who shouted from the rooftops through the primary season will track you down and chew you out.
"Most of the these people are not rational," Call said.
Call, 35, arrived at the Pillsbury Memorial Hall Tuesday morning at 7 for the start of a marathon day. About a dozen or so staffers coordinated the effort, guiding voters, counting votes, rechecking totals.
Paul's 31 votes got lost in the shuffle, lost in translation between moderator Greg Hill's voice and Call's pen.
The slot next to Paul's name on the original return sheet said 31, but a space on Call's return, next to Paul's name, remained blank.
"He's (Gill) reading off his results, I'm writing them down on the return," Call said. "I don't know why it was blank. I don't know if he skipped over it or if someone interrupted him to repeat the last name and it got skipped, or maybe I missed it. It was that simple."
No it wasn't.
Call was met by town officials the next morning at 9:30. They told her the mistake had been rectified. Call, her jacket still on, was confused.
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
She was told someone had come in and said he'd voted for Paul. The voter noticed the "0" in the local newspaper and wanted an explanation. When he got it, he left, satisfied.
Call phoned the Secretary of State's office and re-faxed the form, the one with a circled "31" next to Paul's name. Just to make sure.
Then it hit, like one of those snowstorms last month. Call got a call from someone named Bob. No last name. She remembers the man identifying himself as a reporter for the Associated Press, looking for the story on voter fraud.
She said she'd fetch the details, then call him back, thinking the media would need a strict timeline and every tidbit available.
"I'm thinking he's legitimate," Call said. "I call Bob back and it's a fax machine. I called AP and asked for Bob. They told me a reporter would have given a last name."
Others in the office received calls and e-mails. But Call was the name out front, the town clerk as well as the tax collector. She was labeled the brains behind the plot. She had the biggest target on her back.
The assault picked up after lunch. Paul supporters phoning Call claimed to be from the media. Others just yelled, saying she had committed treason, fraud. One person said she should be shot. She received as many as 40 calls that day.
"One person said he was on a nationally syndicated radio station," Call said, "and he has given out my phone number and they need to call the town of Sutton to find out why there's voter fraud."
The voices came from everywhere. California. Ohio. Florida. Michigan. Very few were from New Hampshire.
A man from Texas e-mailed that he was "contacting, by certified mail, the Attorney General of New Hampshire . . . and requesting a complete investigation and prosecution of any and all parties involved."
A police dispatcher in New London said yesterday she'd received inquiries about the clerk's office phone.
Call got a handful of calls that night at home, refusing to pick up whenever an out-of-state number appeared on her screen.
She got about five more the next day in her office. She tried to get work done. She called the Massachusetts company that makes the licenses for dog owners in her area. The guy had heard of her.
"Wow," the man said. "This is the second time this week I've seen your name."
"Where?" Call asked.
"I've gotten a dozen e-mails about how you've destroyed the New Hampshire primary."
"We make voting machines."
"The problem is," Call said yesterday, "we don't use voting machines."
She went home and locked her doors. She called her mother in North Carolina. She cried. The calls kept coming. She unhooked her answering machine and requested an unlisted number.
"I was drained emotionally and physically," Call said. "That's when I really started to freak out. Thursday it hit me, that most of these people are not rational. That's when I became scared."
It's calmer now. The calls and e-mails had stopped as of yesterday afternoon. Call had the day off, but she went into her office to retrieve some paperwork.
She's hurt and nervous, but she's got a job.
"I've got a school board meeting Saturday," Call said. "I've got to be ready."