By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — Rafael Tejeda, the city’s bilingual election coordinator, says he expects a 25 percent voter turnout for tomorrow’s preliminary election in which Mayor William Lantigua is facing five challengers.
“This is a big number for a primary where usually 22 to 23 percent vote,” said Tejeda. There are 36,882 registered voters in the city.
The two top vote getters in the mayoral vote will win spots on the November general election ballot.
There are also contests for city council and school committee on tomorrow’s ballot.
Tejeda said his estimate is based on the fact that Lawrence has 2,479 new registered voters - most of whom moved from Haverhill, Andover, North Andover, Methuen, Billerica, Boston and New York. Also promising, he said is that many young adults have registered to vote.
“I think it has to do with their parents encouraging them and that years ago we had zero participation by teenagers working at the polls and the number has increase tremendously,” Tejeda said.
Lantigua, who was elected as the first Hispanic mayor in Massachusetts in 2009, is seeking re-election for a second term. He will face City Councilor Daniel Rivera, Lawrence firefighter Juan “Manny” Gonzalez, State Rep. Marcos A. Devers and residents Nestor DeJesus and James M. O’Donoghue.
Three of the members who took part in several failed efforts to recall Lantigua gathered more than 500 signatures asking Secretary of State William F. Galvin to monitor the primary and general elections.
“It’s not a secret that there has been irregularities in the city’s elections,” said Victor Tolentino, a resident for 15 years. Tolentino along with Johny Castillo and the Rev. Edwin Rodriguez collected the signatures during a two week period by going door to door.
In the letter, they requested Galvin oversee the elections “it is well documented that Mayor Lantigua’s campaign practices for the last several years have led to allegations of voter and identity fraud.”
Brian McNiff a spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin’s office said “we recently had a meeting with election officials to discuss the process.” As of late last week, he did not want to elaborate further or whether they made a decision to oversee the city’s elections.
“They are all invited because we have nothing to hide.” said Tejeda, who has been the election coordinator since 2002. The position was created by the city to settle claims by the U.S. Justice Department that its election practices discriminated against minorities.
”There are always complaints and exaggerations that can lead to incidents on election day. It’s always good to have them overseen by a governmental agency or office ,” Tejeda said.
”Elections are always important and these election will define the city’s future in this decade,” Tejeda said. “Voters prioritize what’s important or not and vote depending on the issues,” he said.
He noted his office has received only 300 absentee ballots this year, compared to 600 in 2009.
“There are some districts where the incumbents are not facing a challenger,” he said.
There are a dozen candidates vying for three councilor at large seats.
“I have seen eight or nine candidates for this post, but never so many. It’s going to be hard to choose for any responsible voter,” he said.