EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

January 20, 2010

Lawrence 'fraud' video not what it claims to be

LAWRENCE — A video suggesting community activist Isabel Melendez was passing out blank absentee ballots during the special election for Senate swept the Internet yesterday, prompting an investigation by local election officials and a heated denial by Melendez.

City Clerk Bill Maloney said his inquiry found no evidence of voter fraud.

The 26-second video was headlined, "Why is this woman handing out absentee ballots?" but didn't actually show Melendez handing out any ballots. Instead, it showed her pointing to a blank ballot and talking about her support for Democrat Martha Coakley.

In the background, Melendez can be heard saying, "I explain she's number two on the ballot."

The video was posted on YouTube by an online group called electionjournal.org, which describes itself as dedicated to raising awareness of voter fraud and election irregularities.

It spread quickly after being linked by popular Web sites like Instapundit, National Review Online and Michele Malkin's blog, which questioned whether it was evidence of fraud.

Melendez met with Maloney and bilingual elections coordinator Rafael Tejeda after two Republican election observers and others called them about the video.

"I had to inquire into the matter," Maloney said. "It was simply a discussion."

Maloney said he watched the video "and it was not taken at a polling place. In my report, I'll indicate it was a sample ballot and I don't see nothing wrong with that. It was taken out of context."

Friday was the last day to submit absentee ballots in the Senate election, so even if blank absentee forms were being handed out yesterday, they would not be counted. Tejeda said 276 absentee ballots were cast by Friday's deadline.

Melendez was outraged at the implication she committed election fraud.

"I don't like to be accused of something I didn't do," she said. "I know what's legal or illegal because I've been working in politics for 40 years."

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