By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — As state election officials, a national good-government group and his challenger prepare to send teams of observers to the city’s polling places Tuesday, Mayor William Lantigua yesterday issued a rare press release warning against “any type of voter suppression.”
“Let me be on the record, I strongly support people’s right to vote and people’s right not to be intimidated with the voting process,” Lantigua said in his prepared statement, issued three days after Michelle Tassinari, director of the Secretary of State’s Election Division, hosted a meeting that attracted 80 people to explain the work her observers will do at the city’s polls on Tuesday. “What I won’t support is any type of voter suppression ... People have a right to vote for a candidate of their choice without any intimidation or interference.”
Allegations of voter irregularities in Lawrence are as old as local elections. Most recently, an observer for the Secretary of State reported finding “confusion and overall chaos” at several polling places in the Sept. 17 preliminary election, when he said election workers gave ballots to people not on the voter rolls, examined completed ballots and allowed candidates to walk around freely inside. Lantigua topped six candidates in the preliminary election, when City Councilor Daniel Rivera came in second.
The state observer, Ramon Trinidad, did not name names and would not comment on his report when reached last week.
Lantigua did not return a phone call yesterday. It was not clear whether he was suggesting that over-zealous observers working for the Secretary of State might be part of any voter suppression effort, or whether he was targeting his comments at Common Cause, a nationwide good-government non-profit with a chapter in Boston that has said it may send observers to Lawrence on Tuesday, or at his opponent, Rivera.
“He’s saying we better be prepared, that he won’t allow voter suppression,” Rivera responded yesterday. “We don’t support voter suppression either. But he better be prepared to be confronted if he tries to intimidate any voter or any poll worker in any precinct.”
Rivera said he would announce a plan tomorrow for observing the election.
Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin, declined to comment on Lantigua’s press release.