EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 1, 2013

Common Cause will send observers to Lawrence election

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — The state chapter of a national good-government advocacy group will send observers to Tuesday’s mayoral election, prompted by a report by the Secretary of State that described “confusion and overall chaos” during the preliminary election on Sept. 17.

Common Cause began recruiting volunteers to observe the election on Monday, using the Internet, its Facebook page and its list of volunteers who have observed other elections.

On Tuesday, Mayor William Lantigua issued a prepared statement saying he “welcomes Election Day oversight” but warning against “any type of voter suppression.” The press release did not mention Common Cause or Secretary of State William Galvin, who also is sending observers to Lawrence on Tuesday.

“We absolutely are not supporting any candidate,” Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause in Massachusetts, said yesterday. “We have no ax to grind. Our intent is only to ensure election procedures (are followed) ... and to help the voters of Lawrence exercise their franchise.”

Common Cause has sent teams of observers to monitor other elections in other municipalities in the state before, including in Boston for the presidential election in 2012, when the agency alerted the city to long lines at several polling places. Wilmot said the city responded by dispatching more poll workers to ease the logjams.

In Lawrence on Tuesday, Wilmot said Common Cause observers are being trained — including in a webcast — to recognize irregularities and to try to resolve them first with the wardens at the polling places. If that fails, Wilmot said the volunteers will call Common Cause in Boston, which will reach out first to City Clerk William Maloney and, if that fails, to the Secretary of State. She said the volunteers will include several lawyers.

Wilmot said Common Cause has told election officials in the Secretary of State’s office that it will be sending the observers to Lawrence and also has requested to meet with Maloney.

Maloney did not return a phone call to comment on this story. Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin, would not comment. Lantigua also did not return a phone call.

“The more people that are watching this, the better it will be for the outcome,” said Daniel Rivera, the City Council vice president who is challenging Lantigua. “We’re glad they’re coming.”

Wilmot said the election in Lawrence, where voters also will elect a Common Council and two school committees, is the only one in Massachusetts that Common Cause will observe Tuesday. She said the organization decided to come to the city after reading the report filed by Ramon Trinidad, who observed the preliminary election for the Secretary of State.

Trinidad reported numerous irregularities. Among them, he said he saw election workers pencil in the names of unregistered people to the voting list, give ballots to people not on the voting list, examine completed ballots and allow candidates to walk around freely inside polling places.

The Eagle-Tribune obtained Trinidad’s report under the state’s Public Records Law after McNiff refused to describe its findings.

Yesterday, McNiff also declined to describe what corrections Galvin may have requested in Lawrence for Tuesday’s election as a result of the irregularities Trinidad reported seeing on Sept. 17.

He declined to name the poll worker who allegedly penciled names onto the voter rolls and hand ballots to unregistered voters, or to say whether the worker was warned or replaced.

Wilmot said the irregularities Trinidad observed were “extreme violations of your basic elections procedures.”