EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 7, 2013

Election spotlight on mayor advocate

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — Tonight may be a moment in the sun for Ana Medina, when she could play a leading role in undoing the narrow loss suffered Tuesday by Mayor William Lantigua, for whom she campaigned vigorously over the last few months.

Or it could be an uncomfortable evening in the glare of a spotlight for Medina, when lawyers representing Daniel Rivera, who edged Lantigua by just 60 votes Tuesday, will be scrutinizing her intensely as she casts a series of votes on the Board of Registrars about which of the 54 still-uncounted provisional ballots to count.

Lantigua put her on the four-member Board of Registrars two years ago and has provided her small social service agency with $28,000 in city money, which appears to be the agency’s only source of funding.

Over the last several months, Medina sent the mayor’s campaign organization two checks totaling $400, attended several of his rallies and affixed Lantigua bumper stickers to her car and a 32-square-foot sign — five times larger than zoning allows — promoting Lantigua to the front of the Marston Street home she shares with her parents.

The state’s narrowly drawn ethics laws do not prohibit members of municipal boards of registrars from endorsing candidates, despite the doubts it could raise about their impartiality when close contests end up before them, as will happen in Lawrence tonight.

Secretary of State William Galvin said observers for his office were on guard for political partisans among poll workers in Lawrence on Tuesday, when he said one worker was questioned about whether he had made robo calls for a candidate and another who was removed for electioneering.

But Galvin said the rules are different for members of the Board of Registrars. He said no one should be surprised to see registrars on the campaign trail because state law specifically requires that registrars be enrolled in political parties and that they should be nominated to the board by local political parties.

But Pamela Wilmot, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of Common Cause, a good-government advocacy group, said Medina’s efforts on behalf of Lantigua’s re-election could expose her to allegations that she has the mayor on her mind when she considers voter challenges such as the 54 she’ll hear tonight.

“Clearly, the optics are not good and she’s going to have to bend over backwards to prove she’s not being biased,” Wilmot said. “Ideally, election officials are completely impartial and are not participating in political campaigns, because it does raise the appearance that they’re not going to be fair, and that’s a problem.”

Rivera expressed the same concern.

Medina “is a nice lady — she was at my wedding,” Rivera said. “But this is about, can the election process be beyond reproach? When a member of the Board of Registrars who may have to make a decision against the mayor is actively campaigning and raising money at fund-raisers — she’s got one of those (Lantigua campaign posters) on her car — there’s no way ‘impartial’ will happen here.”

Medina has declined several requests for an interview about her dual role as a city registrar and a Lantigua volunteer. She could not be reached yesterday.

Tonight, the Lawrence Board of Registrars will not examine any of the 54 uncounted provisional ballots themselves, but will review affidavits attached to the ballots in which voters affirmed they were registered to vote even though their names were not on the rolls.

Although the registrars won’t see the ballots, the affidavits they’ll examine will contain suggestions about how the ballots were cast. For example, a vote from a ward such as D2 in Tower Hill, which went 2-1 for Lantigua on Tuesday, is a more likely for Lantigua. A vote from ward F1 in South Lawrence East, which went 5-1 for Rivera, is more likely for Rivera.

The uncounted provisional ballots the Board of Registrars will consider tonight aren’t enough to undo Rivera’s 60-vote margin over Lantigua. But they could be a first step toward that goal for the mayor, who might still be able to reverse Tuesday’s result by patching together some of the 61 votes from the short stack of provisional ballots and from other ballots that still are uncounted.

Those include the trickle of absentee ballots still arriving at City Hall, the ballots Lantigua’s lawyer alleges were not counted when voting machines jammed on Tuesday and the ballots that were challenged but still counted on Tuesday, which would be examined only if there is a recount.

Another 54 blank votes were recorded by machines in the mayoral race Tuesday, and some of those could be added to Lantigua’s or Rivera’s tally if the registrars see marks on them that the machines failed to pick up.

Besides Medina, the Board of Registrars includes City Clerk William Maloney, whom Rivera alleged during the campaign is too frightened of Lantigua to stand up to him, and Laurence Collopy, the board’s only Republican.

Maloney was not available yesterday, an aide in the clerk’s office said. He did not return a phone call.

The Board of Registrars typically is little noticed because its roll deciding election disputes, including which contested ballots to count, matter only when races are tight. The board also oversees recounts, which are rare.

But the contest for mayor Tuesday was painfully tight. The dozens of still uncounted ballots headed to the Board of Registrars for review could tighten the race even further. If they do, a recount becomes that much more likely, which would keep Medina and the Board of Registrars in the spotlight for weeks..