LOWELL -- Secretary of State William Galvin will take direct control of the election offices in Lowell and Lawrence to run any upcoming recounts and oversee the administration of the November general election.
Galvin is "initiating an immediate investigation into the practices and procedures of the Lowell Elections Department," he said in 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.
"Given the closeness of the number of votes cast for the top two candidates in the Democratic Primary in the Third Congressional District and the possibility of a recount, this office contacted each municipality in the district seeking unofficial election results as well as the number of provisional ballots cast in each jurisdiction," Galvin 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.
"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. "Additional information was provided concerning the reconciliation of the number of ballots voted as compared to the check-in and check-out lists which showed significant number of precincts did not reconcile or had missing information as required by (state regulations)."
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 who he will choose to investigate the matter. Galvin said he will also appoint a designee to "assist local officials in their preparation and administration of election matters" leading up to and on the day of the general election and any recount that may arise from the primary.
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 designee, "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.
Galvin will also oversee early and absentee voting for the general election in both cities.
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