EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 5, 2012

Fake signatures spark call for takeover

By Keith Eddings keddings@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — LAWRENCE — A handful of local officials and candidates said yesterday that allegations an election worker faked signatures on a nominating petition raises doubts about whether the city is qualified to run tomorrow’s election and asked the state to send monitors into its polling places.

“The right for every legitimate vote to be counted is at the core of our system of government,” John “Jack” Wilson, the Republican candidate for Northern Essex Register of Deeds, said in a letter to Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees elections statewide. “At this point, it is unclear whether that goal may still be possible in Lawrence on Tuesday, which is why it is critical that your office take immediate action.”

Spokesmen for Galvin did not respond to a phone call seeking comment on Wilson’s request and on the allegations that city election official Rafael Tejeda signed the names of at least four other people on nominating petitions circulated last spring by the campaign of City Council President Frank Moran, a Democrat running for the Statehouse.

The allegations were published yesterday in The Eagle-Tribune, which also found that after allegedly signing the four names — including the name of a woman who is not a U.S. citizen — Tejeda certified that the signatures were valid.

The newspaper relied on an analysis by forensic handwriting expert Ronald Rice of Plymouth, who found that “the style, slant and flow” of the four signatures are the same as Tejeda’s own signature on Moran’s nominating petitions. Rice, a court-certified handwriting analyst for 35 years, also compared the four signatures on the petitions to Tejeda’s signature on his voting card on file at the Election Division.

Tejeda said Friday he is “100 percent sure” he did not sign the names of the four other residents, who all either live in the same building as Tejeda at 73 Greenwood St. or on the same block. He said he signed Moran’s petition when a woman approached him with it in the driveway of his house in March, then urged the woman go inside the building for more signatures.

Of the four whose names Tejeda allegedly signed, only Alejandrina Reyes of 77 Greenwood St., could be reached. Reyes, who is a citizen of the Dominican Republic and would be ineligible to vote in the United States, said she did not sign Moran’s petition.

Ronald Martin, the chairman of Lawrence’s Board of Registrars, which has the final say on the validity of petition signatures before candidates can go on ballots, said City Clerk William Maloney will investigate whether Tejeda faked the four signatures. He would not elaborate.

“I’m going to see what the city clerk comes up with and then we’ll proceed from there,” Martin said yesterday. He noted that the deadline for challenging signatures on nominating petitions was June 1.

Maloney could not be reached yesterday.

Carrie Kimball-Monahan, a spokeswoman for Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, referred questions about the questionable signatures to Galvin, the secretary of state. She said Galvin is better equipped to investigate election irregularities, and can refer cases to local district attorneys or the state Attorney General’s office for prosecution if they are found to be grounded.

Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Attorney General Martha Coakley, also said he could not comment until his agency had a chance to review the allegations.

Moran said in yesterday’s story that he did not carry the nominating petition on which the signatures were allegedly faked, and said he did not know which of his more than 20 volunteers did. He defended Tejeda’s character and said he did not believe he would fake signatures on election documents.

Moran, a Democrat, is being challenged by Kevin Cuff, an independent, who brought the irregularities to the attention of The Eagle-Tribune last week. Cuff said he believed there was “a pattern to the signatures” when he first saw Moran’s petitions in March, but said he did not have the resources to challenge them.

Moran and Cuff are running for 17th Essex House seat, which includes parts of Lawrence, Andover and Methuen. The seat is now held by Paul Adams, who is giving it up to run for the state Senate.

A few other political leaders yesterday joined Wilson, the candidate for Register of Deeds, in calling on the state to monitor Lawrence’s 24 polling places tomorrow.

“I would ask that the Secretary of State’s office be fully involved in ensuring that Tuesday’s elections are held in a fair and equitable manner,” said City Councilor Marc Laplante. “My concern is that we’re unsure as to how far it goes. This may be an isolated incident or it could be larger and no one today knows for sure.”

Mayor William Lantigua has not been implicated in the alleged irregularities in the Election Division, but a leader of the failed efforts to recall him earlier this year said any troubles in the division are fostered by “people working at City Hall under Lantigua who are just doing anything they want, feeling they’re free of any responsibility.”

“This is the same tactic that Willie claimed we were doing during the recall,” Wayne Hayes said. “He claimed that people (in the recall effort) were just sitting around a picnic table having beers and picking names out of the phone book and putting them down on (recall) petitions.”

Lantigua could not be reached for a response yesterday.

Tejeda has worked as the Election Division’s bilingual coordinator since Jan. 21, 2002, when the city created the position to settle a claims by the U.S. Justice Department that its election practices discriminated against minorities.

His duties include providing voter services to Lawrence’s Spanish speaking residents. He earns $30,336 annually.