By: Jamison Tomasek – September, 2011
Last month’s article detailed irregularities in the list of Lawrence registered voters. On the official voter list hundreds of voters were registered two or three times, with the repeating names typically spelling errors or maiden names.In any circumstance this would be troubling, as one of the primary responsibilities of the City Clerk’s Office is to maintain a good list. More problems with the lists and the Clerk’s office itself have come to light in the last month.
The Clerk did not increase the confidence level in his office with the fiasco of the unsigned Recall petitions (the Clerk should have signed each one before the names were filled in, and the whole effort would probably have been ruled invalid by a court because of this). More recently challenges to some city candidates’ already certified nominating petitions showed the Clerk’s office certified signatures of unregistered voters and even one dead person. They also allowed many other invalid signatures. The Clerk showed an unawareness of the law concerning whether a person could sign multiple petitions. In Massachusetts a City Clerk has a great deal of authority over election operations in a city.
Subsequent to the last article, several poll workers came forward and offered no reassurance about the state of the voter lists. Typically after each election poll workers detail corrections to the lists, but then they notice in the next election that no changes have been made. One worker provided a list of 500 people highlighting 30 people who had moved and six had died, all of which were on the voter list. Using a little math, there could be hundreds of dead people in Lawrence on the city list and thousands of people not living at their voting address. It is unclear what happens to the returned census questionnaires, which also should be picking up these issues.
One question posed in the last article was whether any duplicate registered voters actually voted twice. Answering this required utilizing a database of voter records that draws on feeds from election records. Voters that had two active voter names on the Lawrence list were compared to the database. Some of the duplication was not seen, because the database software had scrubbed them. After a detailed analysis it was noted that at least three people show strong indications of voting twice. While this seems like not a big deal, it should be zero. This number could be too low for a number of reasons, as only duplicates that had both listed as active were examined.
The record keeping of Lawrence is so suspect that inactive voters might be actually active voters. Without another layer of research (going to the Clerk’s office and getting the raw lists for a number of elections), this would be difficult to determine. Note that while it was shown that duplicate voters are not a factor, there still are considerable questions about what could be going on with all the moved or dead voters who could be voting.
The database indicates that a lot of voters are “newly registered’ but the city list shows these are only updated records. This code in the database seems to work everywhere else, so it is unclear what Lawrence is putting into the record that causes this discrepancy. In general, the records clearly show that much is amiss in the City Clerk’s Office.
While neighboring Town Clerks do not deal with the size and complexity of Lawrence (Example: Andover 22,000 voters, Lawrence 37,000), the Town Clerks report scrubbing their list every year, and estimate that there is probably only 25-50 problem names. Database research could not find ANY errors in Andover. So in a city where there is suspicion of voter fraud and general distrust of city government, we have a City Clerk’s office that: fails to view an accurate list as one of their responsibilities, fails to act on corrections, produces a document for poll watchers that makes detection of fraud more difficult, raises more questions about what other problems exist in the list, and produces results that might result in different decisions for things like redistricting.
There are always calls for “the people of Lawrence to work together to solve its problems.” One group that should be in the front of the efforts to improve confidence in the system is the City Clerk’s office, but apparently that is not in some people’s interests. While a full-scale inquiry by the Secretary of State’s office (unlikely) might come up with a list of recommendations and then follow up might produce results (in about three years, maybe). Why not restore confidence in city elections in a way that people would be easy to implement? Support Voter ID.
Jamison Tomasek is one of the founders of the Merrimack Valley Tea Party and is a former candidate for State Senate. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org