Thursday, 4:30 PM
State to oversee Boston Elections Department
By Donovan Slack
The Boston Elections Department agreed to be overseen by Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office through the 2008 presidential election Friday, acknowledging that it violated state laws when it failed to supply enough ballots to polling places during November’s election.
According to an agreement signed by Boston Elections Commissioner Geraldine Cuddyer, Galvin will appoint a representative to ‘‘assist’’ Boston’s Elections Department, at least through the 2008 presidential election. The representative ‘‘shall be involved in all aspects of the city’s administration of elections, including but not limited to all preparations leading up to and on the day of elections,’’ the agreement said.
The agreement brings the level of scrutiny on Boston’s embattled Elections Department to a new high. The department was being monitored by federal agents, as part of its settlement of a US Department of Justice lawsuit charging that the city had ignored the rights of voters with limited English skills in 2003 and 2004.
Additionally, an election task force appointed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino last year was looking at the department in an effort to get problems under control. Then, this fall a string of embarrassing mishaps prompted Menino to hire an outside consultant — Harvard University elections specialist David King — to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the department and propose changes.
‘‘It’s all to the good that there are multiple sets of jurisdictions and multiple sets of eyes looking at this,’’ said King Friday after the agreement between Boston and Galvin was announced.
Despite predictions of high voter turnout on Nov. 7, Boston had distributed far fewer ballots than there were registered voters at polling places. With high numbers of voters coming to the polls, more than three dozen polling places ran out of ballots and police cruisers had to speed ballots through rush-hour traffic as angry crowds waited to vote.
Friday’s agreement concludes that in addition to the ballot shortage — a violation of state law that mandates every polling place be stocked with enough ballots for each registered voter — poll workers were inadequately trained to deal with the situation, communication between the polls and City Hall was insufficient, and department procedures caused lengthy delays in the delivery of more ballots.
‘‘We’ve acknowledged that there were mistakes in the (city’s) election process and feel the partnerships with our own national election expert, the election task force, and now a representative from the secretary of state’s office will ensure we have the best elections system around,’’ said Dot Joyce, the mayor’s press secretary.
Galvin’s office said it found that Boston supplied even fewer ballots to polling places than the city originally reported — about 43 ballots per 100 registered voters instead of the 50 per 100 voters that officials initially said they had supplied. And Galvin’s office found that more polling places that ran out of ballots — 38, up from the 30 the city originally cited — with some polling places out of ballots for more than an hour before replacements arrived.
According to the investigation, Boston election officials began receiving reports that ballots were running low about 3 p.m. on Election Day, and at 5 p.m. the first outage occurred at Ward 13, Precinct 10, in Dorchester’s Savin Hill neighborhood. Still, city officials didn’t get replacement ballots to that precinct until 6:15 p.m.
Galvin’s office began receiving calls from voters about ballot shortages at Boston polling places about 4 p.m., the investigation results said. With calls continuing to come in, Galvin called Menino at 5:45 p.m. and suggested using police cruisers to speed replacement ballots to the polls.
The longest wait was in Ward 8, Precinct 5 in Roxbury, where ballots ran out at 7 p.m. and were not replenished until 8:45 p.m.
The agreement requires the city to cooperate with the secretary’s designated representative in developing a better plan for election preparation, Election Day administration, and post-election issues, as well as a more comprehensive poll worker training program. If the city fails to comply with the agreement, the secretary of state can ask the attorney general to enforce it in court.
‘‘This Agreement and Order, developed with the cooperation of Mayor Menino, gives me the tools necessary to address the management issues in the Boston Election Department which led to the violations of election law that occurred in the recent elections,’’ Galvin said in a statement.