By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — Secretary of State William Galvin won’t say if he is ordering changes at the city’s 24 polling places on Tuesday to prevent a repeat of the “overall chaos” witnessed by an observer he sent to the Sept. 17 preliminary election.
Among them, observer Ramon Trinidad reported seeing city poll workers pencil in the names of unregistered people to the voting list and then hand them ballots.
Trinidad also said poll workers examined completed ballots and allowed candidates to walk around freely inside polling places.
He said poll workers were sometimes hard to find while campaign workers were prolific, polling places were organized in a way that confused voters, machines that assist disabled voters were shut down and documents describing voters’ rights were not posted as required.
“I believe that when a poll worker looks at a voter’s ballot for any reason, the voter loses trust in their expectation of the right to a secret ballot,” Trinidad said in his report, describing how poll workers took ballots from voters and examined them if scanners spit them back. “It can be considered a type of voter intimidation.”
Mayor William Lantigua and City Councilor led a field of six who ran for mayor in the preliminary election and will appear on Tuesday’s ballot, along with candidates for City Council and two school committees.
The Eagle-Tribune obtained a copy of Trinidad’s report under the state Public Records Law after Brian McNiff, a spokesman Galvin, refused to describe its findings.
Michelle Tassinari, the director of the Secretary of State’s Election Division, referred a question about the steps being taken to correct the irregularities to McNiff, who again declined to comment.
Other documents the newspaper obtained by its Public Records Law request show Tassinari responded to the confused arrangements inside the polling places that Trinidad described by asking City Clerk William Maloney for the floor plans at each of the 24 polling places. Among other things, she asked Maloney to pinpoint the locations for voting booths, ballot boxes and check out tables and to indicate where poll workers will be stationed and where campaign workers observing the election for candidates will be allowed.
“With arrows, show the flow of how voters enter the polling location, proceed to check-in, proceed to the voting booth, proceed to the check-out table, proceed to cast their ballot and exit the polling location,” Tassinari said in an email to Maloney on Sept. 23, five days after Trinidad filed his report.
Galvin and Tassinari provided no other documents suggesting they directed Maloney to correct any of the other irregularities Trinidad reported.
Maloney did not return phone calls.
Trinidad’s report did not name names, including the identity of the poll worker who he said penciled in the names of unregistered voters to the voter rolls and then allowed them to vote. He declined to discuss the report last week.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of Common Cause, said some of the irregularities Trinidad observed were “extreme violations of your basic elections procedures.”
She said she expected that Maloney and Tassinari have taken steps, including hosting another training session for poll workers, to correct the problems that occurred in the preliminary election.
“My guess is that we won’t be seeing that in the general election, but we’ll be watching and will intervene” if irregularities reoccur, Wilmot said.
Common Cause will be sending up to 25 observers to the city on Tuesday. Secretary of State Galvin will be sending a much smaller team.
McNiff declined a request from The Eagle-Tribune to allow a reporter to accompany state observers on their rounds.
Other irregularities beyond those Trinidad reported occurred in Lawrence on Sept. 17.
At the Valebrook apartments, a polling place in the B2 district, warden Janice Aneskevich said she confronted a Lantigua volunteer who escorted a voter into the building and then took his ballot into a voting booth and tried to mark it while the voter stood aside.
“I told him he had to stop and let the voter vote,” Aneskevich said.
She said the man, whom she could not name, left the polling place but continued to distribute replicas of ballots marked for Lantigua to voters as they headed in, which she said caused her to challenge the ballots of four voters for allegedly violating election laws prohibiting the conspicuous display of campaign material inside polling places.
In another incident earlier in the day, former city councilman Michael Fielding handed out stickers with the name of an at-large City Council candidate Cara Martinoli, urging voters to vote for her as a sticker candidate for the District F council seat rather than for the at-large seat she was seeking. Fielding was once treasurer of Lantigua’s campaign organization.
The irregularities continued even after the last ballot was cast, when the count of the relatively simple ballot was delayed three hours by what Maloney said was a computer failure that required clerks to tally the votes using printouts provided by the precincts.