What does it take for someone to stand up for the integrity of voting process in Lawrence? Are free and fair elections only for the moneyed few?
The Sept. 17 preliminary election in Lawrence was marred by “overall chaos”, according to an observer sent to the city by Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, who is responsible for the integrity of elections across the state.
Yet, despite the report from his own observer, Galvin will not be stirred to tell the citizens of Lawrence what he plans to do to assure tomorrow’s election in the city will be conducted fairly.
Why, exactly, have voters returned Galvin to office each election since 1995?
During the Sept. 17 preliminary election, Galvin’s observer, Ramon Trinidad, reported seeing city poll workers pencil in the names of unregistered people to the voting list and then hand them ballots. Trinidad also said poll workers examined completed ballots and allowed candidates to roam freely around polling places.
“I believe that when a poll worker looks at a voter’s ballot for any reason, the voter loses trust in their expectation of the right to a secret ballot,” Trinidad said in his report, describing how poll workers took ballots from voters and examined them if scanners spit them back. “It can be considered a type of voter intimidation.”
But Galvin would rather that no one in Lawrence learned any of this. The Eagle-Tribune had to crow-bar a copy of Trinidad’s report out of Galvin’s office with a Public Records Law demand. The newspaper filed the demand after Galvin’s spokesman, Brian McNiff, refused to describe the report’s findings to reporter Keith Eddings.
Nor would McNiff or Michelle Tassinari, the director of the Secretary of State’s Election Division, describe any of the steps taken by Galvin’s office to rectify these problems.
There is no justification for their silence. These are not state secrets. This is information about the integrity of the voting process in an American city of 77,000 people. Banana republics and tin-pot dictatorships wrap their elections in a cloak of secrecy. Democracies do not. In democracies, the ballots are secret but the process must be pure and open to scrutiny. If Galvin doesn’t understand that he doesn’t deserve the position of trust he holds.
But there’s more in Trinidad’s report. He said poll workers were sometimes hard to find while campaign workers were everywhere, polling places were organized in a way that confused voters, machines that assist disabled voters were shut down and documents describing voters’ rights were not posted as required.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of Common Cause, told Eddings some of the irregularities described in Trinidad’s report were “extreme violations of your basic elections procedures.”
There were other irregularities in the preliminary election beyond those documented in the report.
At a polling place in the B2 district, warden Janice Aneskevich said she confronted a Lantigua volunteer who escorted a voter into the building and then took his ballot into a voting booth and tried to mark it while the voter stood aside.
“I told him he had to stop and let the voter vote,” Aneskevich told Eddings.
She said the man left the polling place but continued to distribute replicas of ballots marked for Lantigua to voters as they headed in, which she said caused her to challenge the ballots of four voters for allegedly violating election laws prohibiting the conspicuous display of campaign material inside polling places.
In another incident earlier in the day, former city councilman Michael Fielding handed out stickers with the name of an at-large City Council candidate, Cara Martinoli, urging voters to vote for her as a sticker candidate for the District F council seat rather than for the at-large seat she was seeking. Fielding was once treasurer of Lantigua’s campaign organization. The District F seat is held by Marc Laplante, who has been a vocal Lantigua critic.
Common Cause will have a team of up to 25 observers in Lawrence tomorrow. Mayoral challenger Daniel Rivera plans to have a team of lawyers at the ready to handle any electoral shenanigans.
None of this would be necessary if Galvin would simply do his job.