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Feds asked to monitor election

Date: 10/26/2011

Oct. 26, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Due to a number of irregularities discovered during the preliminary election, City Councilor Zaida Luna has requested the Department of Justice (DoJ) for its assistance “to help ensure that all voters have access to the polls on Nov. 8.”

Luna has been joined by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and the Springfield Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Luna told Reminder Publications that she was “so surprised” by the events at the elections and is confident the DoJ will respond to her letter. As of press time on Monday, she had not yet received an answer from DoJ officials.

She wrote to DoJ officials, “record numbers of minority voters turned up at the polls on Sept. 20, but record numbers were also turned away for no good reason.”

She added that Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola can confirm the problems and has added to Luna’s list.

Luna explained among the violations was a voter being handed a ballot that was already marked for Mayor Domenic Sarno at polling place 7H, the Glickman School; at the polling place at Rebecca Johnson School, some poll workers were advising people to vote for City Council President Jose Tosado, while others told voters to cast their ballot for School Committee member Antonette Pepe; and at several polling places, there were no Spanish-speaking poll workers at all times.

Luna said there were also issues concerning the requirements of identification cards in order to vote, and witnessed one incidence herself.

A letter to the DoJ from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts noted, “The alleged violations for the Sept. 20, 2011 preliminary election of which we are aware include but are not limited to:

• Failing to maintain an adequate pool of bilingual poll officials capable of providing the necessary language assistance as required by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C § 1973aa-1a;

• Failing to instruct poll workers on their duty to permit voters, who need assistance, to obtain assistance from any person of the voters’ choice as required by Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-6;

• Poll workers suggesting who voters should vote for;

• Poll workers distributing pre-marked ballots, and

• Voters not being offered provisional ballots.

“These allegations are particularly disturbing in light of the 2006 complaint, which alleged that the city ‘failed to provide effective election-related information and assistance to Spanish-speaking voters ... by failing to recruit, appoint, train, and maintain an adequate pool of bilingual poll officials ... and by failing to provide certain election- related information in a manner that ensures that Spanish-speaking voters throughout the city have an opportunity to be informed about election-related activities.’”

Additionally, the complaint alleged that the city “prohibit[ed] assistors of choice from providing assistance to Spanish-speaking voters’ and ‘fail[ed] to accurately and adequately instruct poll workers on their duty to permit voters who need assistance to obtain assistance.’”

Luna said during her time in office she has been stressing to her constituents the importance of registering to vote and to participate in elections. She said she has now received calls from people stating they are not bothering to vote because of the problems they encountered during the preliminary election.

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