LAWRENCE — One resident said voter fraud is an "illness" in the city, and another said members of the city's Hispanic population "fear" repercussions from authorities if they speak out against injustices.
Both were among residents who spoke yesterday before a state civil rights advisory committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which held a daylong public hearing at Lawrence Public Library.
The commission picked the heavily Hispanic city to hear testimony from citizens and public officials on a variety of issues, including bilingual education, alleged civil rights violations, police brutality and voter fraud. About a dozen people were in the audience for an afternoon session where residents were allowed to address concerns.
Voter fraud is a city "illness" that runs rampant during elections, Chally Ramos said in calling for an investigation of the city's election division.
Ramos said for at least eight years there have been rumors of election improprieties, including illegal voting, absentee ballot manipulation, and people with criminal backgrounds working in voting precincts during elections.
"I urge the panel to look into this. ... This illness in this city has to stop," said Ramos, who ran unsuccessfully in last month's special election for state representative.
Lawrence, a city of 71,000 people, has been sued a number of times over alleged voting rights violations and has faced allegations of police brutality.
Mayor William Lantigua last night said he welcomed the advisory committee at the outset of the hearings, but did not attend any of the sessions, which lasted from about 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
He said several city officials attended at his urging.
"I'm glad they are here, but I wish they were here eight to 10 years ago," he said.
The mayor defended the city against Ramos' allegations, dismissing them as politically motivated.
"At every election, the loser is always alleging election fraud, but they are never able to produce hard evidence," Lantigua said. "When they win, they go home happy and quiet."