EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 12, 2013

Rivera gains vote as recount planned

Task of counting Lawrence ballots by hand could begin this weekend

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua’s bar for winning a recount of the Nov. 5 election was set one vote higher yesterday, when City Clerk William Maloney tossed out six provisional ballots and awarded one to Daniel Rivera.

The action ended the tally of the provisional ballots and increased Rivera’s lead to 58 votes, or 50.18 percent of the 15,210 ballots that have been counted so far.

“This is the way it’s going to go,” Rivera, a two-term city councilor, said after adding the vote to his column and bumping up his margin microscopically.

The ballot was cast in Precinct E1 in South Lawrence, where Rivera won 81 percent of the vote last week.

Lantigua did not return a phone call yesterday, but his lawyer, Sal Tabit, said the mayor expected to submit petitions requesting recounts in all six wards before Friday’s deadline. Lantigua said in a Facebook posting in Spanish yesterday that he has collected 1,843 signatures, or 1,783 more than the 60 required for the citywide recount, including 10 from every ward he wants recounted.

Tabit said he is discussing details of the recount with Maloney, Rivera and City Attorney Charles Boddy. The recount could begin as early as this weekend, Tabit said.

The recount would be by hand, not machine, so the time needed to examine all 15,210 ballots and certify the election depends mostly on whether the 24 precincts are counted one after another or at the same time. Each of the six wards has four precincts.

“We’ll do anything that makes sense to both parties, that expedites the process and makes it fair,” Tabit said. “We’re in discussions about that with all the parties involved.”

Other details of the recount began taking shape yesterday. The process would begin with the wardens for each of the 24 wards, who would examine the ballots cast in their wards one by one and award them either to Rivera or Lantigua.

Both candidates could have observers at each of the tables where the wardens are working and could appeal the wardens’ decisions to the city’s Board of Registrars. Maloney sits on the board, which also includes Ana Medina and Laurence Collopy and has one vacancy.

Some wardens will be busier than others because voter turnout in the wards varied significantly last Tuesday. Ward E in South Lawrence West saw the heaviest turnout at 3,281, equal to 48 percent of its registered voters. Turnout was lightest in Ward D in Tower Hill, where 2,150 people cast ballots, or 38 percent of the ward’s voters.

The Board of Registers would certify a winner based on the recount, clearing the way for Rivera or Lantigua to take office. The recount could be challenged in state Superior Court, which would be under some pressure to rule before Lantigua’s term ends on Jan. 2.

Tabit said a recount would focus on several pools of ballots, including the 260 or so that were set aside after electronic scanners jammed. Those ballots were later counted by hand.

The precincts where the jams occurred are not promising territory for Lantigua. Most of the jams were reported at Precinct D1 in Tower Hill, where Rivera got 310 votes to Lantigua’s 299; in Precinct A4 in Prospect Hill, which Rivera won 293 to 238; and in Precinct E2 in South Lawrence West, which Rivera carried 789 to 228.

Another potential pool of votes for Lantigua is the 50 or 60 ballots that were cast without a vote for mayor. A recount by the human eye could detect an incomplete mark for a mayoral candidate that scanners may have missed.

Tabit said another undetermined number of ballots may have been miscounted when workers attempted to force-feed ballots into jammed machines last week.

“There was extensive jamming of the machines,” Tabit said. “Police officers were required on several occasions to open up the machines to sort of push the ballots down and make sure the machine was working properly.”

Rivera has asked Secretary of State William Galvin to supervise the recount, but Galvin said state election law does not give him that authority. Instead, he said he would send observers to the recount, as he did for the preliminary election on Sept. 17 and the general election last Tuesday.

Rivera said he would have his own observers at each of the 24 tables when the recount begins.

“We showed we were capable of getting enough people out to win this election,” Rivera said. “I’m sure we’ll get enough people to do what we have to do to keep this victory. We will not be out-manned.”

Posting on his Facebook page, Lantigua suggested he also is preparing a show of force as the city heads to its first recount for mayor since 1993, when Mary Claire Kennedy added three votes to her margin to unseat incumbent Lawrence LeFebre by 11 votes.

“I want you to know that I will defend our constitutional rights to the ultimate consequences, to ensure that every vote that you deposited are counted properly,” Lantigua said in the Facebook posting he put up Sunday, when he announced he would seek a recount.

Yesterday, the vote that was awarded to Rivera created the third tally in the race since election day on Nov. 5, when Rivera led by 60. His lead shrunk to 57 on Friday, when Maloney sorted through 54 provisional ballots and the Board of Registrars counted three absentee ballots. In all, they allowed 19 of the ballots to be opened and counted 11 for Lantigua and eight for Rivera.

On Friday, Maloney delayed ruling on seven ballots while his staff, aided by the secretary of state, researched their validity. Yesterday, Maloney threw out six of those ballots, mostly because the people who cast them were not registered to vote in Lawrence or voted at the wrong polling place, and awarded one to Rivera.

Counting the last of the provisional ballots left only absentee ballots arriving from overseas still to be counted, short of the full recount.

Those also offer little promise for Lantigua to close the gap. Only about half of the dozen or so of the absentee ballots that were sent oversees have arrived back at the Election Division in the basement of City Hall. They have not yet been counted.

The deadline for the ballots cast overseas to arrive is Friday.

In the meantime, the 15,210 ballots that have been counted, along with the handful of absentee ballots that have not yet been opened, remain locked in a vault and guarded around the clock by three shifts of two police officers each.