By PAUL CHESSER
SPRINGFIELD, Mass.—A woman who cast an absentee ballot late last year died last week, but her vote will still count, despite the fact that it may have been illegal.
An officer, who did not want to be identified, at the Van Sickle Middle School poll revealed the nature of the situation after a discussion with this reporter about a recent story that cited the number of deceased persons on Massachusetts voter rolls. “Well, I’m about to cast a vote for a dead person here in a little while,” he said.
He went on to explain that the voter, a woman who he would not identify, mailed her absentee ballot on December 26, 2009 to the Board of Elections. According to at least two other poll workers, the woman passed away last week and her funeral was on Thursday. Asked if he knew whether it was a legal ballot or not, he responded that he wasn’t sure, and called the City of Springfield Election Commission Office.
Less than five minutes later he received a return call from an unidentified official with city elections saying the ballot was legal. A later conversation with Gladys Oyola, acting election commissioner, revealed that city staff consulted with the Secretary of State’s office and were informed that the ballot was legal.
However, Chapter 54, Section 100 of the General Laws of Massachusetts states, “No ballot mailed or delivered…shall be counted if the officers charged with the duty of counting the same are cognizant of the fact that the voter has died prior to the opening of the polls on the day of the election.”
A follow-up call to Oyola this evening discovered that after further consultation of the law, the position of both the Secretary of State’s office (and now the city office) is that the ballot should not have been counted. Oyola said unfortunately it is too late to rectify the error.
A worker in the city election office explained that she had consulted with the Secretary of State’s office. “I get my instructions from the state,” she explained, adding the information about the woman’s passage was “hearsay.” She did not want to be identified in a news story.
Earlier at the Van Sickle School the poll worker relayed that he was told the same thing – that the voter’s death was “hearsay.” He then said to this reporter, “It’s not hearsay; they (the other poll workers) went to her funeral.” But he accepted the city’s counsel that the ballot was legal. The language of the law addressing the situation was not discovered until later this afternoon.
Asked for someone who could speak on the record on behalf of the city election office, Oyola then got on the phone. She explained that the absentee ballots are sent to the appropriate polling places for counting on Election Day.
“As far as us here in the office, we weren’t aware she died,” Oyola said, adding that because of that the vote should be counted. She then checked with the warden at Van Sickle and discovered that the absentee ballots had already been fed into the voting machine. “At this time, it has been counted,” she said.
Calls to the Scott Brown and Martha Coakley campaigns seeking official comment were not returned prior to filing this story. An employee who answered the phone at Secretary of State William Galvin’s office was aware of what happened at Van Sickle, and said the office was looking into it, but passed on an inquiry about the matter to spokesman Brian McNiff. He said he did not know about the situation and said he would call back once he obtained more information, but had not prior to the filing of this report.
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