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November 7, 2012

Councilor calls for probe of voting problems

LAWRENCE — A fired-up electorate met an ill-prepared and overwhelmed city on Tuesday, prompting one city councilor to call for an investigation into the hours-long delay and equipment shortages at polling places that he said caused several frustrated voters to walk out.

“The City Clerk was not prepared and planned poorly,” City Councilor Daniel Rivera said about William Maloney, who supervises the three Election Division employees and hires and trains hundreds of poll workers. “When voting locations are running out of pens at 10 in the morning... I think the City Clerk is over his capacity and is unable to handle some of the requests he’s got on the ground.”

Rivera said he responded to the shortage of pens to mark ballots by scouring shelves at Staples and CVS, where he said he bought about 50 pens and distributed them to polling places at two schools, a senior housing complex and a city library.

Other city councilors and an election warden said other problems added to the overflow at the polls, alleging that untrained poll workers mishandled voters, active voters were missing from the rolls, too few polling booths were available and even that voters were left in the dark when the lights went off outside one polling place

The pre-programmed exterior lights went off at the Frost School at about 5 p.m., according to Councilor Eileen Bernal. She said two poll workers responded by pointing their cars to the building and turning on their headlights until a custodian could respond.

In another instance at the Partham School, an Eagle-Tribune reporter saw the desktop of a wooden booth collapse when a voter pressed his pen to it.

By mid-day, public works employees were scavenging for more booths.

“We assembled some from broken booths, enough to cobble together 10,” DPW Commissioner John Isensee said about the pieces of voting booths that were found in the basement of a school. “Some went to (polling places) at Mary Immaculate (senior housing complex). Some to South Lawrence East (elementary and middle schools). Some went to Valebrook (apartments).”

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