Lowell Responds to Election Concerns Raised by Galvin
LOWELL -- A day after Secretary of State William Galvin announced his office would play a role in Lowell’s election office during the primary recount and said his office would investigate the department’s procedures, the city’s top lawyer addressed the various election irregularities.
City Solicitor Christine O’Connor wrote in a letter to Galvin’s office on Tuesday that Lowell’s election office implemented post-election actions “that are not typical of our practices and procedures.”
In addition, she mentioned in the letter that much of the election equipment was purchased in 1998. The age of the machines plus extreme heat conditions last week adversely affected some of the city’s machines, O’Connor said.
Moreover, City Manager Eileen Donoghue reassured residents on Tuesday that “everybody’s vote was counted.”
“There’s no concern of any lost votes,” Donoghue said during the City Council meeting.
The city’s letter on Tuesday comes in the wake of Galvin initiating an investigation into the practices and procedures of Lowell’s election department. Galvin’s office has cited “several administrative errors in the processing of ballots and the tallying of state primary results” as factors in deciding to take a role in the primary recount.
He has ordered a district-wide recount in the 3rd Congressional District primary after Democratic candidate Dan Koh, who came close behind in second, submitted enough signatures. According to state-certified figures, Lori Trahan beat Koh by 122 votes -- less than one-half of 1 percent of total votes cast.
There were 3,227 blanks out of 88,818 ballots cast, including 1,256 in Lowell. The recount is bound to focus on those ballots counted as blank, and whether the voters made any indication of a vote that wasn’t registered by local elections officials.
At the council meeting, Donoghue emphasized that Galvin is not “taking over” the city’s election office. The state has appointed a designee to assist in the recount process.
“We will continue to work cooperatively with the secretary of state’s office, and our focus is on the recount,” O’Connor said at the meeting.
In O’Connor’s letter to Galvin on Tuesday, she wrote that Lowell is committed to elections running with “integrity and competence, and this most recent election was no exception.”
Following the primary, O’Connor said she received a call from Galvin’s office on Wednesday regarding the possibility of a recount. Galvin’s office said to make sure all ballots were secured until further notice. As a result, the city implemented a protocol that all ballots would not be accessed by any member of the election office without a police officer or an attorney from the Law Department present.
“This unusual post-election procedure was intended to ensure candidates and their campaigns that in the event of a recount, all ballots and post-election materials remained secured,” O’Connor wrote.
She also discussed irregularities cited in Galvin’s letter from Monday, including how hand counts were not included on the precinct tally sheets submitted on election night. O’Connor said on election night, tally sheets did contain all hand-count results, and such tallying took place at polling locations.
Machines were adversely affected because of their age and the hot weather. One at the Bailey School ceased operations in the afternoon, resulting in all ballots getting deposited into the side of the machine and becoming hand-counted ballots. At the end of the evening, all of these hand-counted ballots were included on the precinct’s tally sheet, O’Connor stated.
The city will need to address purchasing new machines in the future, Donoghue said at the council meeting.
“They’re way past their life expectancy. That will be a discussion for a different day,” she said.
Galvin’s letter also referenced a group of ballots stored in zipped nylon bags from three precincts. These ballots all appear to have write-in candidates, according to O’Connor. All of the ballots were processed through the ballot machine and included in the machine’s tabulations.
These ballots were erroneously placed in blue, election-grade zipped bags instead of ballot bins, O’Connor wrote. Both the bags and bins, once they returned to City Hall, were placed in the city’s locked vault.
Galvin also said a significant number of precincts did not reconcile the number of ballots voted as compared to check-in and check-out lists. The list contains the number of residents who checked-in and checked-out of the polling location after voting.
O’Connor responded that those lists have remained sealed in the election vault and have not been processed.
Finally, Galvin stated that absentee ballots received after the close of polls are not eligible to be counted. O’Connor responded that no absentee ballots received after the close of polls were counted. The election office maintains all time-stamped records, which it can make available for inspection, O’Connor wrote.
City Councilor Rita Mercier praised Lowell’s Director of Elections Eda Matchak at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I have the utmost respect and confidence in her ability,” Mercier said. “She knows the laws.”
City Councilor John Leahy also said the city’s elections office does a great job.
“This is a black eye we don’t deserve,” he said.
The recount will be held later this week in Lowell. Results need to be in by Monday.