LOWELL -- Citing concerns with ballot handling and tallying in Lowell and inadequate staffing in Lawrence, Secretary of State William Galvin announced Monday he will take direct control of the election offices in both cities to run the upcoming 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary recount and the November general election.
Galvin is "initiating an immediate investigation into the practices and procedures of the Lowell Elections Department," he said in a Monday letter to Lowell Director of Elections Eda Matchak.
In a Monday afternoon statement announcing the decision, Galvin's office cited "several administrative errors in the processing of ballots and the tallying of state primary results" as factors in deciding to exercise his authority under state law to take direct control in Lowell.
Galvin on Monday also ordered a district-wide recount in the 3rd Congressional District primary after Democratic candidate Dan Koh, who came in second, submitted enough signatures. Lori Trahan came out 122 votes ahead of Koh, according to state-certified figures, a difference of less than one-half of 1 percent of total votes cast.
The final vote tallies in the Third District show there were 3,227 blanks out of 88,818 ballots cast, including 1,256 blanks in Lowell and 278 in Lawrence.
Given how close the votes were for the two candidates, Galvin's office had earlier contacted each municipality in the district for unofficial election results and the number of provisional ballots cast in each jurisdiction, he wrote in the letter to Matchak.
"While the information was originally provided, it was later disclosed that it was incomplete and that the hand count results were not included with those results on tally sheets submitted on election night as is required by election law," Galvin wrote.
"During later efforts to obtain hand count information, it was discovered that, contrary to election law, there were ballots that were believed to have been hand-counted at the precinct, that were stored in sealed nylon bags from three different precincts separate from the other sealed voted ballots for those precincts, but no tally sheets were included for those counted ballots," Galvin's letter continued.
Galvin said a review of provisional ballot reconciliation provided by Lowell appeared to show votes counted on absentee ballots, which were added to the totals. He said state law requires absentee ballots for state primaries to be counted on the day of the primary and ballots received after polls close are not eligible to be counted.
"Such practices and procedures are contrary to election laws and a determination has been made that urgent circumstances exist," Galvin wrote.
He said he will notify Matchak of who he will choose to investigate the matter. Galvin said he will also appoint designees in both cities to "assist local officials in their preparation and administration of election matters" leading up to and on the day of the general election. This includes the 3rd Congressional District recount and early and absentee voting for the general election.
Should any matters arise that appear in Galvin's "sole discretion to be contrary to election laws," he will order city election officials, through his designees, "to immediately comply with the secretary's directive(s)."
In Lawrence, Galvin cited inadequate staffing resulting from the imminent departure of the city's only experienced elections specialist.
"The inadequate staffing of an election office so as to interfere with the orderly administration of an election constitutes a practice or procedure of a local official which is contrary to election laws," Galvin wrote to Lawrence officials.
Matchak did not respond to requests for comment.