By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — A team of elections officials from Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin’s Office offered voters advice on how to run a fair election and what to do if they observe questionable activity around the city’s 24 polling locations.
If voters sees something that appears to be improper, they should contact a police officer or an elections warden immediately and report the transgression, Paul Lazour, special counsel to Secretary Galvin, told the crowd of more than 80 people last night during an informational meeting at the Northern Essex Registry of Deeds office.
“We can take emergency action that day through the Secretary of State’s Office. If we have information, something can be done that day,” Lazour said.
“There are procedures that can be done quickly and effectively,” he said. Lazour said last night’s public session was scheduled at the request of Galvin.
Michelle Tassinari, director of Secretary of State’s Election Division, announced the meeting in an e-mail she sent last Friday to mayoral candidate Daniel Rivera, who earlier asked the state to take over management of the election and post observers in each of the city’s 24 polling places.
Rivera, who is challenging incumbent Mayor William Lantigua, said the state’s intercession is necessary “to stop the current mayor from running roughshod on the precinct level operations.”
Tassinari briefed those in attendance with a summary of the laws and regulations as they related to activity at the voting polls. She also distributed a 5-page handout titled “Election Day Procedures for November 5th, 2013 Municipal Election in the City of Lawrence.” Tassinari opened the discussion to questions from the audience after a 20-meeting briefing.
Rivera pressed Tassinari for answers on how many observers that Galvin’s office planned to send to Lawrence on Election Day.
“We have to evaluate what we have for resources and what we can send up here,” Tassinari said.
The state regularly sends observers to Lawrence on election days, as it did for the preliminary election on Sept. 17, because of the city’s history of alleged voting irregularities.
Rivera said he was disappointed with Tassinari’s response in an interview after the meeting.
“I’m concerned about addressing potential problems in a timely fashion,” Rivera said.
“What I heard tonight shows why they need somebody from the state in every precinct. A lot can go on at a poll before they (state officials) respond to a problem.”
Several citizens expressed outrage, questioning why state officials haven’t done more in response to allegations of voter fraud and related irregularities.
“I think a lot of problems could be solved if we had voter identification cards,” City Councilor Sandy E. Almonte said, drawing applause from the crowd.
“That would resolve the voting issues we’re having. We wouldn’t have to have these discussions,” she said.
Tassinari answered “that’s something you should take up with your state Legislature.”
Several citizens expressed concerns about political candidates walking around in the area around the voting booth on Election Day.
“A candidate can go in and out to vote. But they should not be within 150 feet of a polling location,” Tassinari said.
City Clerk William Maloney said that voting boundaries are marked in yellow paint indicated the required 150-foot difference at each of the 24 precinct locations. Maloney told the audience to contact the poll warden, a police officer “immediately on site” or him if they have major concerns about voting problems.
“I’ll be available all day long,” he said.
Several citizens expressed concerns about voters being influenced by poll workers. Tassinari said that should never happen.
“There should be no communications about who a person is voting for,” she said.
As far as the issue of people at the polls trying to accompany a voter to the voting booth, Tassinari said “Voters need to ask for assistance.”
“If you want somebody to assist you, you can ask for anyone,” she said. A voter can request two elections officers — one from each party — to accompany them into the voting both to assist them in completing their ballot.
As far as challenging a person’s right to vote, Tassinari stressed that can only be done by citing a specific, legal cause and the challenge has to occur before a person votes.