By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — Just over 700 voters cast absentee ballots by yesterday’s deadline, down 8 percent compared to the last time the city elected a mayor in 2009, the city’s Election Division reported yesterday.
The 711 absentee ballots will be sealed until they are delivered to the city’s 24 voting places and fed into scanners today, so whether absentee voters favored Lantigua or challenger Daniel Rivera won’t be known. But piling up absentee ballots from residents who can’t get to the polls today is a key part of both candidates’ ground game.
The drop in absentee voters occurred even as the total number of voters registered for today’s election increased — also by 8 percent — compared to four years ago, when Lantigua was first elected mayor.
In all, 37,672 people — equal to about 71 percent of residents over 18 years old — are registered to vote in today’s election, up from 34,879 four years ago. The increase occurred even as the city purged the names of several thousand inactive voters from the rolls.
Josephine Merolla, a retired special education administrator who is living temporarily at The Meadows, a local rehabilitation facility and nursing home, said she voted for Rivera when she mailed in her ballot several weeks ago.
“He went to school here,” Merolla, 83, said about Rivera, who is City Council president. “He went to college here. He was in the service here. He’s done community work here. He’s got the background.”
“He’s a very good man,” said Mary Young, 88, who also voted for Rivera by absentee ballot. “He’s educated. He’s done a lot of good volunteer stuff on the side. He has a nice wife. We deserve someone like him.”
Beato Gonzales and Filberto Peralta cast absentee ballot at the Election Division in the basement of City Hall yesterday, when they made the noon deadline by minutes and were the last of the 711 absentee voters to vote.
Both men said they will be in Boston all day today. Both voted for Lantigua.
“The streets are good,” Gonzales said, echoing a central campaign theme for Lantigua, who said he gave more than 50 streets a fresh coat of asphalt over the last two years (including Boxford Street, where he lives). “Everything is good here.”
Lantigua could not be reached yesterday.
“I’m not worried about it,” Rivera said about the absentee voters. “We have our share of absentees in there.”
The Eagle-Tribune yesterday filed a request under the state’s Public Records Law to examine the applications for absentee ballots the Election Division received for today’s contest, as well as the envelopes the ballots arrived in, to determine how many came from overseas, particularly from Lawrencians in Dominican Republic cities such as Tenares.
Leonard Degnan, Lantigua’s former chief of staff, was indicted last year for allegedly pressuring a Lawrence garbage carter to donate trucks to that city.
On Sept. 21, the newspaper filed a similar request to see the envelopes that contained the more than 400 absentee ballots the city received for the Sept. 17 preliminary election. On Oct. 17, City Attorney Charles Boddy responded that the envelopes were no longer in the city’s possession. He did not elaborate.
The newspaper hand-delivered the request for the ballots to City Clerk William Maloney four days after the preliminary election.
State law requires municipalities to retain ballots for at least 30 days following an election, and also requires municipalities to retain documents that are in their possession at the time they receive requests for them under the Public Records Law.
For people voting in person today, the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.