TWO REPUBLICANS who narrowly lost races for the House in November told a three-member legislative committee tasked with declaring a winner that there were irregularities in the counting of votes but no fraud and no attempt by anyone to steal the election
“I don’t want anyone to think this was a stolen election,” said Republican Rep. Leonard Mirra of Georgetown, who edged Democrat Kristin Kassner of Hamilton by 10 votes in the general election and then trailed by one vote after a recount – 11,763 to 11,762. “It’s simply a matter of human error and errors in our election system,” he said.
In the other contested race, Democrat Margaret Scarsdale of Pepperell edged Republican Andrew Shepherd of Townsend by 14 votes in the general election and trailed by seven votes after a recount– 9,409 to 9,402.
“It comes down to what magnitude of human error is allowed,” said Michael Sullivan, a former US attorney who represented both Shepherd and Mirra at separate legislative hearings on Friday.
Mirra asked the special legislative committee to review the various voting issues and declare him the winner. In Shepherd’s case, Sullivan said the voting issues were so broad that a new election is needed.
The hearings themselves were unusual but not unprecedented. Similar hearings were held after elections in 2010 and 2002. But this time the special legislative committee, operating under a section of the Massachusetts Constitution giving the Legislature the authority to “judge the returns, elections, and qualifications of its own members,” has two races – not just one — to scrutinize.
Rep. Brad Jones of Reading, the Republican leader in the House and a member of the special committee, thought having two such close races in the same year was an indicator that the Legislature’s embrace of mail-in voting was creating problems at the town level as votes were being counted.
A chief complaint of the two Republicans was that the signatures on mail-in votes were not matched against signatures available in the clerk’s office as required by law. There were also complaints that new votes showed up in the recount that weren’t counted in the original election.
And then there were questions about whether individual ballots filled out sloppily by voters should be counted. One voter in the Kassner-Mirra race filled in the circle next to Mirra’s name but also wrote in the name of Donald Trump on the line for write-in candidates. The ballot was disqualified on the grounds the voter voted for two candidates.
The results of the recounts were certified by Secretary of State William Galvin and the Governor’s Council and the two Democrats were sent along to the House to be seated. But Speaker Ron Mariano made the decision to have a special House committee review the results and recommend to the full chamber who should be declared the victor.
In addition to Jones, the other two members of the special committee are Democratic Reps. Michael Day of Stoneham and Daniel Ryan of Boston. Day said the three lawmakers would meet to decide their next steps and promised to make decisions expeditiously. In the past, the legislative reviews of a single race often took a month to several months.
During the hearing, Kassner and Scarsdale referred to themselves as representatives-elect, but Mirra is actually continuing to fill his seat until a victor is declared. He said after his hearing that he has filed several pieces of legislation and applied for committee postings. Asked if he would do the same for Kassner, he said he would.
“If she were to come to me with a list of bills she would want filed, I would absolutely talk with her about that,” he said.
The seat Scarsdale and Shepherd are vying for has been empty since February last year, so the district is currently not represented in the Legislature.
Much of the discussion at the two hearings focused on arcane matters of voting law and judgment calls on how ballots are filled out.
Mirra said Ron Kaufman, a Massachusetts Republican who worked in the administration of George Bush, reached out to the Republican National Committee to dispatch attorneys to help in the recounts.
Mirra said the attorneys worked for two days while ballots were being reviewed in several key communities, and his lead only shrunk by one vote. But Mirra said the attorneys were called away on the third day to work on a recount in the Herschel Walker-Raphael Warnock US Senate race in Georgia. Another attorney had to sub in, whom Mirra said was no match for Kassner’s attorney, and his lead disappeared and he fell behind by one vote.
Mirra said he will abide by whatever the legislative committee decides. Shepherd, through his attorney, indicated the legislative panel has jurisdiction in the case but did not firmly say a pending legal challenge would be dropped.