By Keith Eddings and Sara Brown
---- — LAWRENCE – When Lawrence voters cast ballots yesterday, they were closely monitored by outside observers and local activists on the lookout for possible irregularities and other problems at the polls.
As many as four voting machines broke down – including one that broke twice - a poll worker was removed for electioneering and piles of campaign literature were dropped off inside polling places, but spokesmen for the Secretary of State, Common Cause and city police reported few of the more serious irregularities that occurred in September’s preliminary election.
“It’s been pretty quiet,” Pamela Wilmot, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of Common Cause, which sent 30 observers to the city.
“We had a few problems we addressed in the morning. Those were taken care of pretty quickly. We were very pleased with how it’s going and thankful the Secretary of State is there and we’ve been able to work with them in the city to solve minor problems that came to our attention.”
Wilmot said the campaign fliers for Mayor William Lantigua found inside polling places “were promptly thrown out” and that the poll worker at the Guilmette School in District D2 who was advocating for a candidate also was removed. She was unable to name the worker or to say for whom he or she was electioneering.
Lantigua’s cell phone was not taking messages yesterday and so he could not be reached, but challenger Daniel Rivera said yesterday was “another chaotic day” of voting.
”It started with a bunch of machines down,” Rivera said. “At least four.”
He said when he happened upon City Clerk William Maloney and attempted to express his concern, Maloney told him to “call City Hall.”
One of the downed voting machines, which scan ballots marked by voters, broke down as soon as the polls opened at 7 a.m. at the East Haverhill church that serves Ward B4. Rafael Tejeda, the city’s bilingual election coordinator, said the machine was repaired in 90 minutes and that ballots cast during the breakdown were to be hand-counted after the polls closed.
”Things went pretty well,” said Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin, who sent at least one observer to the city.
“There was a complaint that poll workers were telling voters how to vote, but it turned out they were explaining how many (at-large City Council candidates) you could vote for.”
McNiff last week rejected a request from The Eagle-Tribune to allow a reporter to follow a state observer on his rounds during the vote. A reporter found observer Ramon Trinidad at City Hall at mid-day yesterday and trailed him to a polling place at the Relief’s In in District F4, where Trinidad left after a minute while the reporter was diverted asking a poll worker about turnout.
Before slipping away, Trinidad referred questions about any irregularities he might have observed to McNiff.
Trinidad also observed the preliminary election in Lawrence on Sept. 17 for Galvin, when he reported “overall chaos” at the polls. Among other things, he said poll workers penciled in the names of unregistered people to the voting list and then handed them ballots, examined completed ballots and allowed candidates to walk around freely inside polling places.
Trinidad also said some polling places were organized in a way that confused voters, which prompted Michelle Tassinari, director of the state’s election division, to ask the city for sketches of how all 24 polling places were laid out. McNiff said that after reviewing the sketches, Tassinari asked City Clerk Maloney to make some changes.
Acting Police Chief James Fitzpatrick assigned an officer to every polling place yesterday, as is customary. He said none reported any serious issues.
”It’s gone smoothly,” Fitzpatrick said at 5 p.m., two hours before the polls closed. “Knock on wood.”
Voter turnout remained steady and high throughout the day.
At the Arlington School, 150 had already voted by 10 a.m.
“There has been a steady flow of people coming in and out already,” Barbara Beland election warden at the Bruce School on Butler Street, said at 11 a.m. “I think it’s going to be a high turnout.”
At 5 p.m. there was a line of voters outside the Frost School gymnasium. More than 700 people had voted at Frost School by 5 p.m.
Frost School also had some technical difficulties throughout the day as well. A machine broke twice causing voters to leave their ballots by the side of the machine with a police officer present.
The first incident happened at 8 a.m. and wasn’t working for about 20-25 minutes. The second time happened around 2 in the afternoon and was down for a half hour to 45 minutes.
Lawrence residents and activists Rafael Guzman and Wayne Hayes believe cameras the placed to catch people voting illegally worked.
“We have heard people seeing the cameras and then leave without voting,” Guzman said, adding he believes some left after seeing because they legally couldn’t vote in the city.
“It hasn’t been the same crazyness so far. During the preliminary, at this time places had like 600 votes already and today those same places have like 400. I think it’s working,” Guzman added.