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January 27, 2013

Clerk: Broken booths jeopardize elections in Lawrence

Maloney blames recent problems mostly on old equipment

LAWRENCE — The city is ill-prepared to conduct the upcoming special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat held by John Kerry, in part because a “well-intended” attempt to have county inmates repair up to 175 voting booths produced only a heap of “poorly constructed voting booths that simply were not durable,” according to City Clerk William Maloney.

“The current number of voting booths available and their age and condition is barely sufficient to conduct election events to occur in the near future,” Maloney told the City Council in a recent memo, referring to the special election for Kerry’s Senate seat that will be held later this year if the Senate confirms his nomination as Secretary of State.

“Moreover, the existing booths will likely continue to deteriorate to a state of disrepair, resulting in a serious depletion of available voting booths” for the primary in September and the general election in November, when the city will choose a mayor.

Maloney’s delivered the warning after Councilor Daniel Rivera asked him to explain the chaos at several polling places in the November presidential election, when poll workers were overwhelmed by the 54 percent turnout.

At one polling place in the Guilmette school, the line to the voting booths was about 400 people long at 8 p.m., causing several discouraged votes to leave without casting ballots. Approaching the front of the line, voter Darlysha Gonzalez said she and her mother had been waiting three hours, including an hour at the Rollins School that ended when they were told their voting place had been changed.

Rivera and other councilors alleged that other problems added to the overflow at the polls, including a shortage of voting booths and pens to mark ballots, untrained poll workers, poor coordination between city departments and inaccurate voter rolls.

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