LAWRENCE – Secretary of State William Galvin will maintain control of city's Election Division at least through the Nov. 6 election, citing new concerns about its ability to get absentee ballots to voters who moved away after the natural gas explosions and fires that rocked South Lawrence last month.

Galvin dispatched Denise MacAloney, a former Westminster city clerk, to oversee the Election Division on Sept. 10, citing fears that the resignation of its senior clerk would leave its two remaining employees unable to handle the recount in the 3rd Congressional District and the general election next month.

Clerk Richard Reyes returned to his $45,900-a-year job at the division on Sept. 25, but Galvin has kept MacAloney on the job, over protests by Mayor Daniel Rivera.

“Richard is back so they should be gone,” Rivera said after Reyes returned. “There should be no reason for (the state) to stay. I'm hoping I can get a conversation with them so we can go about our business, considering their number one reason for them being there was that Richard was leaving. He's back.”

Debra O'Malley, a spokeswoman for Galvin, said Tuesday that MacAloney will remain in division's basement office at City Hall at least through Nov. 6, citing the new challenges the division will face getting absentee ballots to voters displaced by the gas explosions and fires in South Lawrence and the Andovers on Sept. 13. The explosions and fires destroyed or damaged dozens of buildings in the three communities and killed a teenager. 

“With the developments – the gas explosions – there's more concern,” O'Malley said. “There are voters who have been displaced and we want to be on hand to assist with that.”

She added that even though Reyes has returned to work at the city Election Division, Galvin remains concerned that its two other employees don't have the experience to make sure the work gets done given the added challenges they face getting ballots to displaced voters.

Columbia Gas shut down gas service to more than 5,000 homes and businesses in Lawrence after the disaster, causing residents who lost gas for heat, hot water and cooking to move from the city temporarily and raising concerns that they may skip the Nov. 6 election. Service to all buildings is not scheduled to be restored until Nov. 19, two weeks after the election, when races for governor, the U.S. Senate and House, the state Senate and House, the state attorney general and the register of deeds will be on the ballot locally.

Just over 14,300 Lawrence residents voted in a similar election in 2014, about one-third of them in the South Lawrence neighborhoods where gas remains shut off.

Reyes has been with the division at least 13 years. Its other employees are Lourdes Alvarado, a former shipping clerk and home health aide who was hired as a clerk last summer, and Rubin Perez, who managed Marcos Devers campaigns for the Statehouse and for mayor before Rivera placed him in the division two years ago.

O'Malley said MacAloney is assisting with day-to-day administration of the division, including training Alvarado and Perez on issues involving absentee ballots, early voting the state's data base of voters.

Rivera declined to comment Tuesday on Galvin's decision to maintain control of the Election Division.

City Clerk William Maloney, who oversees the Election Division, visited the City Council last week to warn of the challenges getting absentee ballots to displaced voters who might skip the election, but did not estimate what their numbers might be. He suggested the state organize a media campaign to inform them that they can vote by absentee ballot or can vote early, from Oct. 22 through Nov. 2, at City Hall. He said the media campaign should be on social media, radio and television, but said his office does not have the staff or budget to organize it.

Voters seeking an absentee ballot can call the city's Election Division at 978-620-3294.

Early voting will occur weekdays in the City Council chambers from Oct. 22 through Nov. 2, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; on Saturday, Oct. 27, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and on Sunday, Oct. 28, from 10 a.m to 2 p.m.

All five polling places South Lawrence are expected to be open on Election Day, including the Diamond Spring Garden apartments at 1 Beacon Ave., where Ward E1 votes. The building lost gas service in the disaster but was not damaged.

Other South Lawrence polling places are the Frost School at 33 Hamlet St., where Wards E2 and E3 vote; the senior housing apartments at 339A Salem St., where Ward E4 votes; the South Lawrence East School at 165 Crawford St., where Wards F1, F2 and F4 vote; and the Branch Library at 135 Parker St., where Ward F3 votes.

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